Injera prices up 100%?
I typically buy injera at Tana Market across from Meskel on Cherry Street when we'd have dinner there. They were charging $6 for a 10 pack (or 12). This past weekend, they were charging $6 for a 5 pack, twice as expensive, but about the same as restaurants will charge you, though Saba also charged $6 for 10 (or 12). I've yet to check with Saba or Amy's Merkato, but did prices go up across the board for injera?
I found out! What's going on is that one of the wholesale bakers recently switched from using a blend of teff and a filler to pure teff. When they did, they caused an increase in the retail price of injera from six to ten dollars, the exact amount reported above.
This is a huge relief! Asking the question of the lady I asked caused us both so much fear you could see it on her face, and she could see it on mine, and when we figured out what it was about the relief was incredible.
It's OK. Pay the extra price, enjoy better injera, and don't worry about it. Everything's fine (WHEW!)
I spent Saturday with an Israeli/Ethiopean friend of mine, and we ended up the evening at the Awash Cafe, his favorite place to dine out (Columbia City).
I asked him about this injera situation. What he said "One white woman in Idaho grows teff."
At the Awash Cafe, he called over the owner to talk about this situation in more detail.
What he said was that it's now more than one single woman, there's enoujgh teff grown in the US in Idaho and Minnesota that with supplements from Canada no teff need be imported anymore from Ethiopia.
Part of the problem is that teff is particularly difficult to process, since the seeds are so small threshing and husking machinery is hard to come up with.
(This man talked a lot, and I'll try to report more down below)
Ethiopia is now not short of teff. They seem to have warehoused it. Part of the problem with the situation in Ethiopia in the 80's was the complete inattention of the ruling classes at that time to the problem.
He explained that during the famine, it happened because the rains failed all throughout Ethiopia for three years in a row. My friend didn't seem to understand what the owner and I were talking about, and I told him it was because he's now 32 and too young to remember the problem. (In truth, his family immigrated to Israel because of the famine and inter-religious warfare between his Jewish clan and local Christians and he was born in Israel)
This three-year failure of the rains led me to an awful conclusion: we had plenty of warning the famine was coming, it's just that no one with the power to do anything about it cared.
The owner of the Awash Cafe explained that the regime of Mengistu seemed to be after deliberately eliminating whole populations that might oppose him.
Since then, the political situation is better, the rains have resumed, teff is warehoused, roads have been built to improve access around the country, and the Communist Chinese are building irrigation projects, and people are allowed to now express their opinions, which used to get them killed. (This man had PLENTY of opinions, and enjoyed thoroughly the chance to express them, like someone long repressed and suddenly set free)
I asked for more details aobut the irrigation projects? He said there's a dream of being able to tap the waters of Lake Tana (the source of the Blue Nile) to irrigate upland Ethiopia. I was doubtful, because I know that you can take water from uphill, but Lake Tana is downhill from almost all of Ethiopia. One other problem he mentioned is that the Chinese who are coming into Ethiopia to reform farming practices and work on irrigation projects seem to not be leaving.
I mentioned that I've seen film footage of upland Ethiopia and it's pretty much Road Runner and Coyote Country, only better watered: Flat mesas with narrow valleys in between. The mesas are better watered than the part of West Texas west of Amarillo that the Road Runner and Coyote cartoons are drawn after but how do you get irrigation water up to the top of all those mesas in enough quantity to make a difference to crops?
The guy did not seem to understand that you can''t pump water uphill profitably very far.
It was about this time that it started to dawn on me that this guy wasn't an Amhara. True enough, he's an Oromo from the Awash Basin (thus the name of his restaurant) and the Awash CAN be irrigated because it's a winding river through flat country that ends in a salt lake 60 miles from the sea.
He then went on to discuss irrigation projects in Somalia. Somalia? I asked.....(I forgot that Oromos are cultural and linguistic Somalis, not Habeshas, the word for Amharas, Tigreans, and Eritreans) "But Somalia has only two rivers in the entire country!" When I said that, he beamed. "95% of the population of Somalia spends their entire lives walking behind camels!" I said. He replied that yes, but the southern River is irrigated and farmed extensively. In fact they have a problem in that this river is going through a drought right now and drying up, forcing a dislocation of the population from the river valley serious enough to concern us here in Seattle.
The owner of the cafe went on to talk about many other things with us, but here's the gist of the food-related conversation.
Teff is like coffee - it grows well particularly at certain altitudes (Ethiopia is a hilly country, unlike much of the Middle East and Africa). There have been stories about "peak coffee", where global climate change has made previous coffee planting grounds too hot so the farmers have to keep moving their crops higher and higher. I suspect the same predicament may be facing teff farmers.
Ethiopia is not only hilly, it's cold! That gets impressed on me when I visit my upstairs neighbors (who can drink me under the table!) and I know that not only do they never turn on their heat, never shut their balcony door, they also never put leftovers in their refrigerator!
(I don't know what they keep in there, but it's certainly not food)
Instead, they make a big batch of lamb stew (yebeg alecha) or something and leave the uneated portion in the frying pan sitting on the stove for a couple of days, eating out of it until it's gone. (This works in Ethiopia, I guess, because it's so cold there all the time)
Just about every Ethiopean market in my neighborhood, Rainier Ave South somewhat south of your Central District neighborhood, carries injera.
You might check the prices.
They all seem to come from a couple of local bakeries.
It may be a problem with the availability of teff, the special millet flour that injera is made of.
If all the stores have doubled their prices that might explain it. I'll ask my Ethiopean and Eritrean neighbors if they've noticed the same thing and report back.
A Falasha friend of mine told me that his father and other Ethiopeans in Israel attempted to grow teff in southern Israel from imported teff. They failed. It might sprout, but it certainly won't grow. (Probably too hot)
I'll call around and check. True, if teff is hard to get, I expect prices to go up...but double?
Amy's Merkato sells teff flour, it's pricey, 5 lbs for $12, but a little goes a long way. It's still better than what Bob's Red Mill is charging $26 for 6.5 lbs, $23 for 6.5 whole teff.
I buy injera simply because I'm not well-practiced with making it myself. You have to ferment it, like sourdough, and then cook it thinly like a crepe, which also takes some technique and practice. My first and only attempt fell apart and came out all tough, not light and fluffy. Else, I certainly would make my own, though I don't like having to fail a bunch of times before getting something edible. :(
Just about everyone I know who eats injera buys it ready-made. I guess it's too hard to make at home, and it's too easy to come by. That said, the guys upstairs don't eat injera with every meal because it's difficult to get supplies of it regularly and they find white bread cheaper. (I kinda doubt that's the whole truth. It's true that a pound of Wonder Bread is a dollar and a bag of injera is six or ten dollars, but that bag of injera is heavy, filling, and easy to come by)
I once made Ethiopian Spice bread for them, called Ambasha and they loved it. If you want to bake for Ethiopians, Ambasha is probably a better way to go than baking injera, which is easy to buy. Ambasha can be a tour-de-force to show off a baker and people love it! It's fun to shape the dough. The recipe I used is in the Time/Live Foods of the World series on African cooking.
I'm okay with paying $6 for a bag of 10-12. The stuff lasts me a week, or more, if I freeze half of it. My point was that the place I normally go to has seemingly doubled the price, and I'm not okay with that unless something more widespread is going on, in which case, I won't be buying as much injera...
Plus I live in Issaquah and have to make a special trip if I want to get it or eat Ethiopian. I go probably once every few months, but I would prefer to have it more often, and driving to the CD regularly just isn't reasonable for me. Just because everyone else buys it doesn't mean I should. Besides, what's wrong with learning and mastering some new food skills? I don't like always being dependent on someone else making my food, and if prices rise drastically, be a slave to that.
I'm not interested in impressing people. I just want to eat more injera, not pay an arm and a leg for it, and am willing to invest some time learning how to make it. It's like saying, you can buy bread at the store, why bother learning how to make it? Can't depend on buying your way through life. :)
What concerned me was that if your price for injera had doubled, did that possibly mean an interruption in available teff supplies in Ethiopia itself? Perhaps through a crop failure or problem with rainfall?
That would spell famine, and famine in Ethiopia (again) would insert very serious complications in my life and the lives of my friends and neighbors.
A doubling of the price of saffron doesn't threaten anybody.
Doubling the price of the main starchy foodstuff of a nation of 65 million people, many of whom live right around us, is news we Chowhounds should keep abreast of!
(I'd still recommend trying your hand at making Ambasha, because it's delicious, authentic, and uses wheat flour and yeast. I just think you'd enjoy making and sharing and eating it)