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Rituals, festivals, holidays

Ethiopian Food Etiquette

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


In Ethiopia, no one uses utensils to eat, they just use their hands. While there are forks people can use, most choose not to. However, because cleanliness and hygiene were a problem in the past, only one hand that is designated for eating touches the food on the plate, while the other can be used for any other task, such as using the bathroom. The informant said that even though cleanliness is no longer a problem, the custom still remains. In fact, there is even a hand-washing ceremony before every meal, where the host will bring around a special tea pot and a bowl, and the guests will wash just their eating hand. Traditionally it is the right hand, but nowadays, if you are left-handed and prefer to eat with the left, it is acceptable.

I also asked whether people eat by taking turns, and the informant said that they all can eat at the same time, just not before everyone has been seated. She also explained to me the tradition of “gursha”, where you would feed a family member or a lover to show the close relationship you both share.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

I think the one-hand eating rule is super clever, especially since soap used to be an issue in Ethiopia. The tradition of gursha is also very similar how people in east Asian cultures will, for example, cut a piece of meat and feed it to a friend, family, or lover as a way to acknowledge the close relationship and comfort towards the other.

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