Friday, October 11, 2013

Ethiopian Tea Time: Shai and Dabo

About a week ago, a fellow adoptive mom (on one of the yahoo forums I'm part of) mentioned that many Ethiopians have a tradition of drinking spiced tea and dunking bread into it.  Another mom chimed in to add that her kids had enjoyed tea and bread for months after they arrived in Canada a few years ago, a small and familiar comfort in the midst of all of the difficult transition times.

How did I not know about this??

I immediately asked Seth about his memories of tea and bread and he said that he remembered it being served occasionally in the orphanage and in our agency's transition house.

That same day, I started looking up recipes for both shai (Ethiopian spiced tea...pronounced 'shy') and dabo (Ethiopian bread).  I found both.

So, although we don't usually have a mid-morning snack, yesterday morning we did:  Shai and dabo.

It was delicious!!

The bread was heavy and very dense and slightly sweet tasting from the addition of 1/2 cup of honey in the dough.  Mmmm.

And the tea...oh the was wonderful, hot and sweet out of the pot!  Although I'm a big fan of chai tea, shai beat it hands down, in my opinion, though the ingredients are similar.  Both are flavoured with raw cardamom pods and whole cloves and cinnamon sticks...but shai doesn't have any of the peppery-ness that chai often has (because chai is usually brewed with whole peppercorns).

The best part of the whole experience??

Well, two things actually.

First, I got a bunch of extra cuddles and snuggles from Seth throughout the morning as we waited for the bread to rise twice and eventually go into the oven.  He eats Ethiopian food regularly, but there was clearly something special about this for him.

Second, the look on Seth's face when he dunked his first bite of dabo into his shai was, well, glorious!  He immediately gasped and said that the tea tasted very familiar, so I'm thinking that I must have gotten the flavours right because it's been over two years since he drank it last and it obviously resonated with him.  His smile was beatific!  And, a bread boy to the end, he adored that thick honey bread and ate piece after piece until he could barely sit up straight from being so stuffed.  Lizzie and Matthew also loved our tea time, but really it was Seth's face and reaction that made my day.

Although I won't always have time to make the bread, we decided as a little group that we will aim to enjoy a cup or two of shai at least once a week...maybe on Fridays after the work of the week is done, or maybe on Saturday mornings so that Geoff can join us.

We all spoiled our appetites for lunch yesterday, but frankly who cares...there are times, apparently, when we just need to tank on Ethiopian honey dabo and shai!

The shai started out rather pale in colour, but near the end of the simmer time, it had darkened into something almost caramel-like.

I just wish I could have captured their sheer delight!


  1. Hi Ruth! I had no idea abou shai either! Can you post the links for the tea and bread recipe that worked for you? Btw, love Lizzie's hair! Take care !

  2. Sure Tracey...will post. And thanks for the comment about Lizzie's hair - I'm slowly getting a little better at it!!


  3. This brought tears to myeyes! Connections to the past are so imprtant to our little guys, especially ones they can "feel". Today I received pictures of somewhere very important from C's past after reeceiving some in the summer that my brother was able to take. And I'll tell you that it was not just C who was emotional but I was too at finally being able to connect to something so important in his past and to do it WITH him.
    I bet it was not just Seth and Lizzie who rejoiced in the shai and dabo.

  4. Oh I love this, what a sweet story Ruth. Thanks for the recipes - this could become a lovely tradition.

  5. Thanks ladies...and Ellen, I'm so glad for you and for C to have that unique and oh-so-special connection with his past, too!!! Lovely.


  6. I LOVE this, Ruth! What a wonderful idea! Yes, I agree-please post the recipes.