Stephanie Caspelich

Reporting the news that matters.

Kukulu Market: A Slice of Ethiopian Life in Chicago

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Kukulu Market has been serving a wide array of spices, Ethiopian coffee and its famous injera to Chicago’s diverse Edgewater community since it opened its doors in 2003.

“Edgewater has the biggest Ethiopian community in Chicago,” said owner Assefa Retta, who moved to Chicago from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia’s capital) in 2000. “There are a couple of communities scattered as far north as Howard Street and as far west as Western Avenue.”

Throughout the 1970s to 1990s, Ethiopians suffered from the crippling effects of military conflict and full-scale war with Eritrea and Sudan. As a result, about 37,000 Ethiopians sought asylum in the United States as refugees.

According to the U.S. Census, 4,500 Ethiopians resided in Chicago in 2000.

Though integration into American society posed its own set of challenges, Ethiopian immigrants remained steadfast in their search for a better life with the support of community organizations like the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, religious congregations like the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and one-stop shops like Kukulu Market, which is Amharic (Ethiopia’s official language) for rooster’s crow.

Aside from well-stocked shelves that carry everything from berbere, teff, lentils, Yirgacheffe coffee, niter kibbeh to traditional coffee dresses, movies, music cds and books, Kukulu Market also carries a locally produced monthly magazine written in Amharic that gives homesick folk a rundown of recent events in Ethiopia.

“The magazine was started because of our nostalgia for life in Ethiopia,” said Retta. “Essentially, the title of the publication translates to ‘Remembrance’.”

And while the shop has loyal following among members of the local Ethiopian community, it has attracted other East African immigrants spread across Chicago (the Sudanese are big fans of injera) and food lovers from New York.

This humble shop at 6129 N. Broadway St. has proven that food can bring a community together and, occasionally, provide a cure for the homesick blues.

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Written by Stephanie Caspelich

February 28, 2012 at 4:05 am

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