"Tell Me What You Eat, I Can Tell You Who You Are."
Kidan Eshetu Deresse - An Ethiopian in Galway
I first had the pleasure of meeting Kidan three years ago - It didn’t take me long to realise that I was in the presence of someone both enigmatic and creative. Whilst he has interests in many crafts and projects, his real passion is for food.
Kidan's principle conviction is that food enrich's and connects us all and that it is integral to what links us as a people. A philosophy which eminently appeals to me.
As Kidan is from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, I was curious to discover what impact food has in Ethiopian culture. It is a country that I have never been to. Like many, I'm sure, my main association with the country, up until a few years ago, was the devastation that the 1983 - 85 Famine reaped, Live Aid in 1985, harrowing pictures on the TV of starving children, Bob Geldof and 'Feed the World'. I was curious to know how food and food culture had changed since, if at all. It didn't take Kidan long to describe the importance of food within Ethiopian culture.
"In Ethiopia during holidays, the whole town or village smells of food, wood stoves are burning, clarified butter is cooking along with spices, the towns' and villages' are alive and full of smoke, the smell of food is everywhere. This is how you know it is Christmas or New Year or a holiday!"
“Food is a big memory in my life, I remember with great fondness as a child going into the mountains with friends to kill and eat Pigeon's, this had a big impact on me, we would cook them on a fire – the memory associated with this action has left a deep impact within me”
I was beginning to see that food was not just central to Kidan as an individual but that it is key within the culture he grew up in.
"Of course, people left, our culture was eroded, we still have the culture, but it is not the same as it used to be. Now you can get fast food, burgers, KFC, the franchise food chains. There is now a culture of fast food!"
Kidan won a scholarship and spent a number of years in further education in Cuba and the USA before he arrived in Ireland in 2005. He told me that he remembers his time in Cuba very fondly,
"The food and culture in Cuba was similar to that in Ethiopia, People are very sociable and caring there, some black Cubans were immigrants from Ethiopia, this made it similar to home”
For these reasons Kidan always felt at home in Cuba. "We would always eat together as a community, I was shown friendship through the food that would be cooked and prepared for me.”
Kidan has called Ireland home since 2005. He explained that he feels drawn to community life here. He has completed a BA in Culinary Arts at Galway Mayo Institute of Technology and hopes to share his vision and philosophy of food with people.
“People are connected by food, for example people in Ireland love tea, and if you go away you want your Barry's tea with you, however this is not just about the tea taste, it is about your family, community and culture you associate the tea with, your mum boils the water, prepares and hands the tea to you, as you both sit together in the comfortable surrounds of home – this is what tea means to you, it is why you like it and why you want it with you."
Kidan believes that this is the case with all food and that food should be enjoyed in a manner that reflects this philosophy.
"Food has an impact on community life, once you sit down around that big table you are sharing something. In Ethiopia we eat with our hands to connect with the food, we sit together very tight, close together, on the floor. There are no formalities, anyone can share and join the table at any time. Food reflects love and respect for each other. It is sharing…"
"…When we talk to each other, or when I contact friends from home now, they could be in the USA, here, or at home, it doesn't matter where they are, because we always talk about the meals we shared together and the food that we ate - because this action binds us and has bound us together. - When we are together around the table we talk about what we grow, make, do, sadness, love - it is all present - Life - at that moment."
"Food is not about what you eat it is about sharing the love. Ireland is like this, you go into a house and you are offered something right away, this is always food, usually: 'Will you have tea?' "
"I have a vision that I want to reach people in a simple way through our food. At the moment I have my little café, I cook for people and cater for organisations like the Irish Ethiopian Adoption Society and the Ethiopian Friendship Association, when they have activities. It is a way we can promote our culture and heritage. What I would really like to do though, is to create a product that is accessible for everybody to enjoy"
Kidan believes that when we are eating or drinking, it is not about the food or the drink, it is about how the ACTION we are participating in COLLECTIVELY binds us together, Thus people are connected through and by food. Rarely one comes across an idea or philosophy which completely makes sense...
For me – this makes COMPLETE sense.
Oh yes... and If you want to try the BEST coffee you will EVER taste, prepared from the raw bean - Kidan is your man!