Existential Momentum: Ambasha, Eritrean Bread

| April 27, 2011


In this day and age, many people are familiar and relatively comfortable with the concept of interracial dating, interracial marriage, and interracial children.

However, fewer people are familiar with intercultural relations.  Both my husband and I are brown in complexion; however, he is Eritrean and I am not.  The cultural differences and conflict we experience as a married couple is as complex as those experienced by an orthodox Jew married to a fundamental Christian.  A Chinese married to a Ghanaian.  An Alien married to a Homosapien.

Like most mothers of sons, mine was concerned that not only would I fail to meet her exceptional standards as a wife, but I would also fail to fully appreciate, embrace and understand her culture, language, religion and traditions.  If I couldn’t (or rather wouldn’t) envelope all things Eritrean, how would I genuinely love her son, but more importantly, how could I properly raise children of Eritrean descent and teach them about their extraordinary heritage and history?

Without minimizing the generational extension of my own heritage and traditions, I, to the surprise of my mother-in-law, have more than embraced the Eritrean culture.  Coincidentally, my embrace has less to do with my mother-in-law’s concerns or grievances and more to do with my children’s livelihood and future.

Perhaps by default, women, across all cultures and groups, tend to maintain, practice and teach the relevance of tradition, culture and language to children in the community.  I want to offer my children similar ‘lessons’.  With that said, I have little interest in helping my children to identify or root themselves in one particular category or existence.   Instead, I am greatly motivated to give their presence on earth some context and existentially, some momentum.  In doing so, I might ignite, in them, a vast appreciation for the history that came before them as well as illuminate their capacity to positively transform the story that lies in front of them.

As part of my efforts, I have learned to cook a handful of traditional Eritrean dishes, one of which is this delicious, comforting bread called Ambasha (Hambasha).  In essence, it is made similarly to pizza dough, but it generally contains spices (i.e. ginger, fenugreek, cloves) and sometimes, raisins.  Some people like to bake their bread, but I (as instructed by my mother-in-law) cook it in a large, non-stick pan on the stove top.  I added honey to give the dough some depth of flavor; however, you do not need to do this.  This recipe makes a wonderful snack to pack in a little one’s lunch box and/or with a cup of afternoon tea.

Buon appetito.


Serving:  1 loaf of bread
Adapted from Recipe Source

1 packet of active dry yeast
¼ cup of warm water
1 tablespoon of raw honey
2 cups of white whole-wheat flour
2 cups of bread flour and more, if necessary
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 cup of raisins
2 teaspoons of salt
1 ¼ cup of warm water
¼ cup of raw honey
2 tablespoons of canola oil


Dissolve 1 packet of yeast with ¼ cup of warm water and 1 tablespoon of honey.  Let sit for 10 minutes, or until yeast is foamy.

In the meantime, in a standing mixer with dough hook application, add the flours, cinnamon, raisins and salt.  Add the additional 1-¼ cup of warm water to the dissolved yeast.  Turn mixer on to low and slowly add the yeast/water mixture.  Mix for about 5 minutes, or until the dough starts to ball up and around the dough hook.  Add more flour if dough does not form a ball or add more water if the dough is too dry.  This dough should be slightly sticky.

Grease 1 large glass bowl with 1 tablespoon of canola oil.  Place the dough in the glass bowl and cover with saran wrap.  Let sit in a warm place for about 1 hour.

Using floured or greased hands spread the dough out on an ungreased pizza pan.  Score the top of the dough using a design of your choice (traditionally, spokes similar to that of a bicycle wheel is used).  Let sit for about 20 minutes.

Pre-heat a very large non-stick pan on the stove top.  Place the dough in the pan, over medium heat, and let cook on one side for about 5 minutes, or until golden brown.  Flip the dough over in the pan and allow the other side to cook for 5 minutes.  Turn the heat down to low and allow the bread to cook for another 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool on a cooling rack.  Serve warm!

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Category: Africa, Featured Articles: Travel & Culture, Kids & Food, Recipe Vault, Sides, Sauces, and Breads, Travel & Culture

About the Author (Author Profile)

We all have a friend in our lives who is smart, witty, intelligent: you give her cold pasta and chicken and she will whip out a gourmet meal in 15 minutes, she makes chicken soup from scratch for her sick neighborhood even though she is nursing a cold herself… you know that friend who will always be there to drive common sense into you, but doesn’t realize that she is as perfect as they come as a mother, wife and friend. That is our Patty….

Comments (13)

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  1. Gera says:

    As being in a multicultural country I see and “taste” different cultures frequently.
    But not in the case of Eritrea, so this is fascinating to learn more about that country and its traditions.

    Really the Ambasha looks great with a cup of tea, and worth to try it – thanks for this delicious bread 🙂



  2. Candace says:

    That.looks.so.good! I would love to give that a try sometime. I have this irrational fear of yeast that I’m hoping to overcome this year. I’m going to email this recipe to myself to try. We love eating new foods from different cultures. Thank you for sharing your recipe! Candace

  3. Just posted this incredible PEACE BREAD. It should have an international day dedicated to it – this is what brings people together! I adore this post… just posted it to my fb page to all 4,600 of my friends. I just love it! Thank you so much, I consider this a gift.

  4. Devaki says:

    I am the product of an inter-community marriage in India and gone that route myself. So I get it! I find in my family, it is better to focus on what unites us than what divides us and that is where most happiness lies for us. If we focus on our differences and there are many, cultural and otherwise, what good will that do!

    I love the bread, the story and the fact that it came from your mother-in-law through you 🙂

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  5. Simply Life says:

    what an interesting post – thanks for sharing! this bread looks great!

  6. Peggy says:

    Honestly, I’d never heard of Eritrea before this post. It was interesting to learn a little bit more about it through it’s food!

  7. Miz Helen says:

    Hi Patty,
    It looks beautiful and I can almost taste the raw honey and raisins. A wonderful combination and a great recipe. I wish I could just tear off a piece right now. Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and hope to see you next week!

  8. sweetlife says:

    lovely post, your children are blessed to have a wonderful mother..they will truly be great adults, who appreciate culture, history and their family..lovely bread..thank you for sharing!


  9. Never had ambasha before..actually first time heard about it. It sure looks very comforting!

  10. hellaD says:

    Wow, what a lovely post, thanks so much for sharing your cultural explorations with us. This bread looks so delicious, I just love fenugreek and bet it would be lovely in this bread. Thanks so much for adding this to World Food Thursdays last week!

  11. I am fascinated with the culture of Eritrea and excited to learn about this bread which I have never had.

  12. molly says:

    mmmm, going to have to try this! 🙂

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s really good stuff!