Wandering down the quiet, tiny Cross Street in Wakefield, past the site of the long-gone Victorian Clayton Hospital and the sadness of rows of empty units, it is easy to miss the tucked away beauty of Corarima restaurant, but once through its unassuming exterior the diner might be forgiven for believing he has stumbled into an Eritrean family gathering that oozes welcome and hospitality from hosts Asamnew Asres and his wife Rahel Bein.
Asamnew’s smile is broad, his enthusiasm is infectious and his passion for Eritrea and Abyssinian cuisine is evident throughout. In a light, airy space that is elegantly decorated with the work of artisans and the traditional coiled palm leaf baskets that reflect the cosmogony of Eritrean culture, even the confines of Covid safety have been so thoughtfully put into place that they are not in any way intrusive. The menu is accessed via the Hopt app, where food is selected and paid for without any contact, but Asamnew is on hand to explain dishes, the spices they contain and the health benefits.
I am both coeliac and vegetarian and it is so refreshing to see a menu where I do not have to worry about cross contamination or ask a barrage of questions. A number of Ethiopian restaurants have begun to mix wheat with the teff in their injera, but Corarima serve only pure teff, so it is totally coeliac approved, and other items are processed as little as possible, with ingredients carefully chosen to boost the microbiome system, using delightful combinations of spices and ingredients to make a flavour-rich, beautifully balanced selection of dishes. Rahel, who does all the cooking, is a gifted chef with a real discernment of flavour palates.
We chose the combination platter which gives a taste of most items on the menu. It arrived, beautifully presented under a colourful Messob hood, and Asamnew gave a demonstration of how to eat with the injera. Injera is the national dish of Ethiopia and Eritrea, central to the dining experience. It is a sour fermented flatbread produced by mixing teff flour with water and adding ersho, a clear, yellow liquid that accumulates on the surface of fermenting teff flour batter and is collected from previous fermentations, in a similar way to how we would begin sourdough but, after fermentation, the viscosity of the mixture allows it to be poured onto a screeching hot griddle, or metad, the batter forming bubbles that look like hundreds of eyes, producing a circular pancake which has a smooth base, but a porous sponge textured surface, which makes it ideal for mopping up sauces and scooping up foods. In taste and texture, the closest I can equate is the South Indian appam, but that doesn’t really do it justice; it has a deliciousness that is unique and is a perfect foil for the other elements of the meal. The injera simultaneously becomes the platter upon which the food is served, the utensil with which to eat, and a moreish food in itself.
Injera making is an ancient art passed down through generations of Eritrean women who have fed their children, their families, their villages and the liberation fighters in the mountains fighting to win the independence of their country from occupying forces from Ethiopia. Injera—made from this simple mixture of teff flour, a little leavening and water—nurtured life in Eritrea through wars, adversity and famines. It fed communities celebrating together a marriage, or the birth of a child. Somehow, there was always enough of this thin batter to make another stack of soft, aromatic injera for another meal of spicy African dishes served from a shared platter. Injera making is work. It is also ritual and a prayerful practice. It is the relational practice of Eritrean women connecting a village together around a shared meal that is physical sustenance. It is also sustaining of the rich conversations and stories that enhance identity across generations and are sense-making of life. It is an incredibly intimate and indigenous way of eating to translate into a western restaurant scenario, but Corarima have managed this transition with grace and authenticity, and I feel deeply moved and privileged to be sharing this heritage as a Yorkshire woman, for these few brief moments.
There is a proverb that states, “those who eat from the same plate will not betray each other”, so, as a family, we chose to begin with feeding each other in gursha, placing a tiny injera wrapped parcel of food gently in the mouths of each other, a ceremony that engages with food in a way we have largely lost sight of in Western culture, enhancing the relational presence as a way of bringing the sacred into ordinary life, and ceremony as a rich exemplifier of relational being. It is a reminder that what we hold as most precious cannot be owned or possessed, but perhaps it can be touched in the act of feeding one another—nurturing the relationships that not only make life rich, but are what constitute life; feeding them, valuing them above personal agenda and taking care of them in love and intimacy. Injera is never eaten alone. It is broken and passed around; shared with family and friends, or shared with the stranger who may be passing by in the custom of generosity so inherent in Eritrean culture. Sharing injera is an act of communion—it is breaking bread together—participating together in the relational practices that sustain life.
The food is truly wonderful, not one dish out of step, but it is the sheer joy and enthusiasm that is poured into every morsel that makes this dining experience so very special. Asamnew and Rahel have, I learn in the course of the conversation, just celebrated twenty-six years of married life, and Asamnew’s face glows, adjectives tumble tailing over each other as he speaks of Rahel’s beauty and talents, extolling her virtues and conveying how much he cherishes her, as if she is his new bride; it is so refreshingly wonderful to hear. There is a profound sense that this fabulous couple have learned something far more enduring than how to run a wonderful restaurant. Just as the injera batter is poured, slowly and purposefully, from the outside of the circle to the inside, they have discovered how to find ‘centre’ in this sometimes frenetic world, and the slow process of fermentation has reminded them to be patient with community conversations and visioning processes in their adopted city; to allow these processes to ferment and to allow the wisdom of participants to bubble up to the surface forming the ‘many eyes’ of shared perspectives that grow from deep dialogue.
As our meal ends, Asamnew takes the time to tell my son of the discoveries in Buya of the earliest human skeletons, and adds with a twinkle in his eye, “So, you have Abyssinian ancestry in your DNA”. If that means enjoying such glorious food, in such delightful surroundings, with hosts as fabulous as Asamnew and Rahel then that is very much okay with me. Seldom have I enjoyed such a pleasurable restaurant meal; I leave honoured, blessed and satisfied in both stomach and soul.
Tsegibe, Temesgen Amlak.