Ethiopia’s official Jewish community dates to 500 CE. At one time, almost a million Jews lived in over 500 villages in northern Ethiopia. Legend has it that Moses, while wandering in the desert, first came to Ethiopia, then called Abyssinia, and married a woman who begat him a child. And, of course, we all remember the story of the Queen of Sheba, who came to Jerusalem and also had a child with King Solomon. Their son Menelik brought the Ark of the Covenant to Ethiopia to save it during the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This Solomonic line supposedly lasted until Haile Selassie.
Recently, I visited Gondar, Ethiopia, where many of the country’s perhaps 7,000 remaining Jews (known as Beta Israel Jews) are living, waiting to immigrate to Israel.
All Ethiopians eat injera, a spongy flat bread made from teff, an ancient (gluten-free) grain. For celebratory occasions like the Sabbath, Ethiopian Jews eat a more special wheat bread called defo dabo, often studded with nigella seeds, as their unbraided challah. This differs from village to village, family to family, depending on tastes and availability. Try making it next Shabbat, knowing that this tradition goes back to antiquity.
Joan Nathan is Tablet Magazine’s food columnist and the author of 10 cookbooks including King Solomon’s Table: a Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World.