From the Horn of Africa to Oakland, a family tradition of food

Oct 26th, 2009 | By | Category: Student Work


Oakland–The black-and-white photograph of the woman with the piercing eyes sits on the front counter of Dareye Hide Away Ethiopian Restaurant, overlooking the dining area and the kitchen.


Terufet Zafu, cafe owner

A few customers, most arriving by bike, filter in and out of the barely week-old establishment in Oakland.  Few know that the expansive café with its white umbrellas and warm, red-brick interior is named for the woman in the photograph, an Ethiopian who never set foot on American soil.

Dareye (pronounced Dar-EY-yay) was famous for her cooking, says Terufet Zafu, 44, the woman’s daughter and owner of the restaurant.  Originally from Sidamo, a region in the south of Ethiopia known for its coffee, Terufet’s mother opened a restaurant in the capital city, Addis Ababa.  One of her specialties was Yebega Tibs, a spiced lamb stew, said Terufet.  “No-one makes it like her,” she said, shaking her head.

Dareye passed away more than a decade ago, but her traditional East African recipes live on thanks to her daughter, who wears a blue-and-gold embroidered scarf around her head. Terufet speaks in Amharic, punctuated with short bursts of English; her three grown children, who work in the restaurant as well, take turns translating.

TerufetfamilyAfter immigrating to Oakland in 2001 with her husband and children, Terufet struggled with the language barrier.  She soon found a niche market making Injera (Ethiopian flat-bread) for distribution in local restaurants, markets and liquor stores.

The distinctly sour, spongy bread is made with an Ethiopian staple, teff, a round grain.  The pancake-like bread must ferment overnight.  Though it was difficult to find the brown and white grains in America, (they eventually found Ethiopian distributors,) customers approve of the result. “It tastes the same as back home, a lot of people have told us,” Tiyu, 26, Terufet’s daughter said.

The bread is packaged in plastic and delivered to local stores in Oakland like U and I Liquors on Telegraph, or Grand Perkins Market.  It is bought by members of the thriving Ethiopian community  that has sprung up in Oakland over recent decades, marked by Ethiopian restaurants, stores and churches.

Many link the influx of immigrants from the Horn of Africa to the civil unrest in Ethiopia over the past few decades.  Ethiopians left by the thousands after a revolution in 1974, when Emporer Haile Selassie was deposed and a Marxist military regime was installed, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think-tank.

Other conflicts, along with wide-spread famine and drought in the mid 1980’s, led to more emigration.  As of 2000, the Ethiopian community in Alameda county consisted of about 2000 people, according to U.S. census data, although Mike, 26, Terufet’s son, believes that number to be much higher by now.

But despite the visible community presence along Telegraph Ave., America is still very far from home.  Terufet misses visiting with her extended family and attending her local church, which she did several times a week.  She also didn’t previously work outside of her home. “The pace of life is slower there. It’s an easier life.” Tiyu said, touching her Bob Marley baseball cap.

Tiyu, on the other hand, attended an American school before moving to the U.S. and has no problem switching between Amharic and American-accented English.

While she was busy navigating the obstacles of adjusting to a new life, Terufet’s Injera business took off.  She opened Café Dareye at 2504 Telegraph Ave, which was successful, but tiny.  “The room was this big,” said Mike, measuring with his hands.  “People spilled out onto the sidewalks.” After a little more than a year, Terufet started looking to expand her family business.

Sitting at the window in the new location, customers face the patio of Café Colucci, half-obscured by plants, across the street.  Terufet and her family were not aware that another Ethiopian restaurant was right across the street when they found their current space.  However, “we’re friendly with them.  We respect the woman who owns it.  She’s been there for 15 years,” she said.

Even though her business is new, Terufet is optimistic that her mother’s recipes will help her restaurant survive.  While Tiyu is explaining the history of her business ventures, Terufet steps in to clarify, gesturing as she speaks in Amharic.

Her daughter listens and then smiles, explaining, “she wanted me to say that it did not take several years for her business to get off the ground. It only took one.”

Terufet musters some of her English to hammer this point home: “It took me one year and one month to find success,” she says.

Although Tiyu will continue studying biological science and Italian at U.C. Davis this fall semester, she plans to commute and continue to work part-time at the restaurant.  Her sister Taytu, 22, and brother Mike both want to continue with the restaurant as well.  They hope to eventually open a franchise, Tiyu said.

Despite the comments about Ethiopian customers, the restaurant is mostly empty one particular Sunday afternoon.  Most Ethiopians are at the local Ethiopian New Year’s celebration, or Enkutatash, Terufet says, and then her face lights up.  She explains something excitedly to her daughter.

Another reporter came and wrote a story on her café – the tiny one – at the same time, Ethiopian New Years, exactly one year ago. “She says that it is a good omen that you are here,” her daughter said, smiling.

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