In the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition, we observe a Holy Lent Fast called Tsom which lasts 55 days. During Tsom, we abstain from all meat and dairy products, including eggs and eat a light meal once a day, usually consisting of lentils. After Tsom we celebrate Fasika, what we call Easter in Amharic.
When I was young, preparations for Fasika began with my brother heading to the market to buy a lamb. I was always so proud when we ended up with the biggest lamb in our neighborhood. Every time I would take the lamb to graze I would make sure to slow down as I passed Dagamawit’s house, she was my arch nemesis, and I wanted to make sure she saw my families big beautiful lamb.
In the beginning, Tsom is always exciting. I loved being able to do something that all the adults were doing, it made me feel mature. But after only ten days I was over it. I would beg my brother, Messele, for a little chicken or even just a little sweet treat and he always gave me the same answer: “No!”
The last day of Tsom was always the hardest. All the women would gather in our kitchen and start preparing our Easter feast and the men would go outside and slaughter the lamb (I made sure to stay away during that part!). I would run around gathering spices, help pluck the chickens, and sometimes I was even allowed to stir the Doro Wat (a spicy Ethiopian chicken stew). Oh, that day was torture! There was so much food and the house smelled so delicious, I couldn’t wait until the next day when I could stuff my face full of food.
Years later, I celebrated my first Easter in Italy. To my surprise, I found that my new home had many similar Easter customs to those of Ethiopia. The first was lamb. No Ethiopian Easter feast was complete without a roasted lamb and the same was true in Italy. For many Italians, Pasqua (Easter in Italian) without lamb on their table is hard to imagine. The custom of eating lamb at important religious feasts goes back thousands of years. One of my personal favorite recipes for lamb is Abbacchio alla Scottadito, which literally means “lamb that burns the fingers”.
The second similarity is Easter Bread. In Napoli, they make a Neapolitan Easter Bread call Casatiello. It’s filled with cured meats and cheese and topped with whole eggs. It was one of my favorite Easter treats. Ethiopia also has an Easter bread that’s very similar to Casatiello called Yedoro Dabo. We make Doro Wat and stir in whole hard boiled eggs, then we mix this into the dough and bake it. You end up with a savory bread that if stuffed with chicken and eggs, it’s quite delicious.
Although Italy and Ethiopia couldn’t be more different, both cultures have played an important part in who I am as an individual. I’m proud to consider myself an Italian but I always make sure to remember my Ethiopian roots. Easter is the perfect time to reflect on where we have come but also plan a course for our future. I wish you all a happy Easter and remember “a tavola non si invecchia” (at the table we never grow old).