Ethiopia—a land of antiquity with a mystical past—has attracted, merchants, travelers, and clerics who came to trade, visit, or seek sanctuary. Fortunately, the rugged terrain, coupled with its fiercely independent inhabitants, prevented conquest by empires and kingdoms of the past.
Ethiopia is situated on the eastern horn of Africa, south of Egypt and the Red Sea, east of the Sudan, north of Kenya and northwest of the Indian Ocean. It is a mountainous country with deep gorges and spectacular plains. The stark contrast of the terrain is fundamental to regional variations of climate and natural vegetation. From a number of perspectives, Ethiopia is a place of extraordinary diversity, encompassing peoples of rich and varied religions, cultures and traditions that are unique and distinctive.
During antiquity, trade flourished with Egypt, the Mediterranean lands, the Fertile Crescent, India and China. The monsoon and trade winds of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific carried traders who brought silks, carpets, precious gems and spices to the coast of Punt (the ancient name for the eastern Horn of Africa). They carried their bounties overland to the towns and settlements situated in the hinterland of the country.
The history of spices in Ethiopia goes back to biblical times when the Queen of Sheba packed a caravan full of these goods and traveled to visit King Solomon, the sage of Jerusalem. It is interesting to note such spices as cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom are named bahar kimem in Amharic (Ethiopia’s national language) which translates to “spices from across the seas”.
The movement of people from all over the world as immigrants to the United States is a tale of continually unfolding saga of peoples, places and food. To this American quilt of culinary repertoire has been added Ethiopian cuisine which is fast growing in the numerous North American cities and in particular, the United States.