– Sara Unatu –
We are strolling through the heart of Florence. Unatu was working until 11 pm last night in the kitchen at Quinoa. Today is the big day when she will prepare an Ethiopian dinner for ninety people with the restaurant’s staff. From my place, we head back to the restaurant, passing through Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Duomo. “There are always so many people in Florence, day and night!” she comments. We adopt a confiding tone as our conversation unfolds.
Unatu was born in Gondar, the legendary ancient imperial city to the north of Lake Tana. She took the name Sara when she arrived in Italy to make life easier. But her story begins much earlier and fits in with her constant search to make a place for herself as a cook. First in Addis Ababa, then in Sudan and Libya, she honed her cooking skills, acquiring fresh nuances along her path as a migrant. With her husband Kedir, she arrived in Borgo San Lorenzo after a difficult sea crossing and landing in Lampedusa. Unatu and Kedir are of different religions, but this has never caused any trouble between them. They have a daughter called Hanan.
Fried chicken and grilled fish from her time in Sudan, the everyday couscous and falafels from Libya: these are the recipes that Unatu has collected along the way. But her first love remains injera. She giggles when she tells me about the first time that her mother Etamai asked her to make it herself and it was a disaster. Today, her hands produce masterpieces of taste and colour, but, deep down, she still laughs at the fiasco produced for her mother in her younger years.
The traditional preparation of injera requires teff, a grain from which whole flour is produced. After mixing teff flour with water and giving it time to ferment, the bread is ready to be made on electric plates or in special pans. To accompany injera, Unatu selects vegetables and cuts of meat. Traditionally, injera is served on a single large platter and eaten with the hands. Preparing it the day before ensures that the flavours are perfect.
Unatu works in Borgo San Lorenzo at the Ethnos Restaurant, in the La Brocchi Village managed by Progetto Accoglienza. The challenge makes her eyes shine, and she has already collaborated with the UNHCR on special events of every scale. With her family, she dreams of getting to know the lifestyle of a bustling city, like the African metropolises she discovered on her journey. During the Refugee Food Festival Florence, in June 2017, she cooked at Quinoa (sold out) and Ethnos with Michelin-starred chef Marco Stabile.