Injera & Shark: Ethiopia Meets Jamaica In Washington, D.c. (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Injera & Shark: Ethiopia Meets Jamaica in Washington, D.C.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:07:20
But first, when it comes to the migration of people, you could say the D.C. region knows a thing or two. Not only do we have individuals here from all over the country, we have immigrants from all over the world. As a result, if you travel around our region, you'll find a particularly global food scene. Salvadoran, Vietnamese, Indian, Korean, name a cuisine and chances are you can find and authentic restaurant or restaurants, plural.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:07:45
Washington's U Street corridor alone, for example, has more than two dozen Ethiopian restaurants where you can order platters of Injera bread piled with traditional offerings like lamb stew, beef tibs, collard greens and spicy lentils. But head two miles up Georgia Avenue, north to Petworth and you'll find those tibs and greens, served up alongside...

MS. GELEILA ZELEKE

13:08:05
Curry chicken, brown sue chicken, jerk chicken, jerk fish, cocoa bread and plantains and mango mousse for desert.

SHEIR

13:08:15
This is Geleila Zeleke.

ZELEKE

13:08:17
I'm the manager here at RAS restaurant.

SHEIR

13:08:19
And she's also the daughter of one of RAS restaurant's owners, Elias Zeleke, an Ethiopian with a lifelong passion for, as you probably guessed based on the food, Jamaica.

MS. ELIAS ZELEKE

13:08:28
We were always going to go over there, just become family with his friends and -- I mean, we were always into both cultures.

SHEIR

13:08:35
And they're not alone. The link between Ethiopia and Jamaica stretches back to 1930 when Haile Selassie was crowned Ethiopia's Emperor. Prior to coronation, he'd been known as Ras Tafari.

ZELEKE

13:08:47
And Rastafarian stems from the name Ras, which means king in Amharic.

SHEIR

13:08:52
One of Ethiopia's dozens of languages. And, indeed, Rastafaris regard Haile Selassie as divine. If you listen to Bob Marley's music, you'll hear references to African repatriation and Ethiopia, in particular. In fact, the Rastafarian musician's portrait hangs next to the Ethiopian emperor's at Ras, along with all sorts of art work. Can you talk about where this artwork comes from?

MR. MESFIN GEGZIABHEAR

13:09:14
Actually, the different paints you see, this is the history of Queen Sheba which is displayed in most Ethiopian establishments.

SHEIR

13:09:23
Mesfin Gegziabhear co-owns Ras. He's also Elias Zeleke's cousin.

GEGZIABHEAR

13:09:27
The other section is basically Caribbean arts. The colors were very nice, bright (word?) . You know, it just opened up the whole place.

SHEIR

13:09:38
Speaking of opening up, Mesfin is a pharmacist by trade and had originally opened a pharmacy and dollar store in this space, back in 2005. But as more affluent people began moving to the neighborhood, the customer base was changing. So Mesfin partnered with his cousin, got some help from D.C.'s fa├žade improvement program in the Latino Economic Development Corporation and in August 2010, he opened up RAS.

GEGZIABHEAR

13:10:00
But I'm still a fulltime pharmacist. I come here in the evening just to run the paperwork and stuff. So my cousin runs the business, basically.

SHEIR

13:10:09
And both keep pretty busy with their respective tasks, though, neither one does the cooking. Now, that job falls to some other folks, a chef from Ethiopia, though she isn't in when I swing by the kitchen. And...

MR. ORVILLE LAING

13:10:20
I'm Orville Laing. I grew up here in Saint Catherine, Montego Bay, Kingston.

SHEIR

13:10:25
A chef from Jamaica.

LAING

13:10:26
They...

SHEIR

13:10:26
So she does all the Ethiopian cooking and you do all the...

LAING

13:10:28
No, I cook the Ethiopian, too, but she kind of expert on it more than me.

SHEIR

13:10:34
But one of RAS restaurants signature dishes isn't from Jamaica, it actually hails from Trinidad. It's called the Bake and Shark. The bake is a fried dough kind of like a puffed up pita and the shark is, yes, shark meat, cubes of it which you season.

LAING

13:10:49
We put cilantro, ginger, lemon juice.

SHEIR

13:10:52
Dip in flour mix.

LAING

13:10:53
I like to put a little (word?) in it, a little garlic and black pepper, you know.

SHEIR

13:10:56
And then deep fry.

LAING

13:10:57
You just drop it in there, like, bam.

SHEIR

13:11:03
Once the shark is brown and crispy, you slice the bacon half, pile on a little lettuce...

LAING

13:11:07
Then you put your shark over it like this...

SHEIR

13:11:10
Add a little cucumber.

LAING

13:11:11
Then you get some garlic sauce.

SHEIR

13:11:13
Some sliced tomatoes.

LAING

13:11:14
And some more garlic sauce.

SHEIR

13:11:15
Sprinkle on some spinach.

LAING

13:11:17
Little more garlic.

SHEIR

13:11:17
You love that garlic sauce.

LAING

13:11:19
Yeah, a lot of it. They like it.

SHEIR

13:11:21
Then you put the two halves of the bake together, wrap the sandwich in wax paper.

LAING

13:11:26
And you serve this with fries, too.

SHEIR

13:11:28
And voila. Okay. This is going to be a little messy, I think. But...

LAING

13:11:31
(unintelligible) ...

SHEIR

13:11:32
Here we go, big old chunk of shark right there. You have your bake and shark. The shark has a very distinctive flavor.

LAING

13:11:38
Yeah, it's the ginger. The ginger and garlic.

SHEIR

13:11:41
Of course, while Orville cooks my bake and shark, he also has some Ethiopian dishes simmering on the stove, which brings us back to that Caribbean-Ethiopian connection RAS manager Geleila Zeleke talks about.

ZELEKE

13:11:52
The Jamaican people and the Ethiopian people, they actually, almost, are one. They are a very close nit group of people. If you actually meet a Jamaican, they can tell you about Ethiopia's culture and history because, even though they're so far away, they have a bond.

SHEIR

13:12:06
And RAS's menu brings that bond to true culinary life. After tasting my bake and shark, I returned to the dining room where I dig into a plate of collard greens, lentils, split peas and beats. I sop it up with injera bread and wash it all down with an Ethiopian ice tea as reggae music fills the air. For more on RAS restaurant and the ties between Jamaica and Ethiopia, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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