5 Senses: 1 Food Joy – Sugar Cane in Ethiopia

The ‘5 Senses: 1 Food Joy’ series immerses you in a joyful food experience from another place and time, for a bite sized moment of mum escapism! It uses a structure from a popular grounding technique, describing 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste.

Read on to escape the daily grind and transport yourself to an Ethiopian market, sharing sugar cane with the local children.



1. On a calm, raised corner of a vast sprawling market, I look down into the valley below where the market stalls sit. Their tatty tarpaulins in muted blues, blacks and reds look like a giant monster truck has left its tyre tracks printed through the centre of all the action.

2. Beyond the furore, lush green hills stand proudly overseeing proceedings at the daily market. An unexpected sight, perhaps, given the ubiquitous nature of cracked, brown earth images we so often associate with Ethiopia. The mainstream media allowed the Ethiopian drought of 1984 to become the poster boy of African poverty. What I am seeing here couldn’t be further from that image.

3. This is a place for all of life. I notice families and friends putting the world to rights, shopping for their livelihoods and checking the plentiful produce on offer. This is not just a market. It is a meeting place, a sort of cross roads where neighbourhoods, custom and friendships collide. From up here, the vendors and visitors look like tiny ants moving around the busy stalls purposefully yet contently.

4. I turn and move along the mud path further still from the chaos of the market. The route is strewn with modest buildings. Each one a mash up of breeze blocks, corrugated metal, mud and tarps. Humble homes but a home is a home is a home the world over. Places where people live, laugh and love. I am reminded that it is not designer furniture, sleek interiors or bespoke fittings that make a home but the people that reside with you, visit you and sit around your kitchen table.

5. Reaching the edge of the town now, I am intrigued by a cart stacked bountifully with what looks like some kind of bamboo. It’s not the cart itself which grabs my attention but the throngs of eager children, full of beaming smiles, who are hounding the street hawker for his wares. I look at my boyfriend quizzically. “Sugar Cane”, he replies cheerily as we move closer.


1. Although now just a distant hum, the hubbub of the market is still audible, echoing in the background like a bell toll calling those who might have gotten lost or distracted on the way.

2.A small fire nearby snaps, crackles and pops as the children, growing impatient, prod and poke it with long sticks as they become frustrated waiting in line for their turn to sample the sugar cane.

3.“Thwack, thwack”, the machete breaks through the thick tubular sugar cane sticks with ease. The street vendor portions it up and delivers it to the waiting pint sized customers.

4. Is there anything more joyous than the sound of excited children? Their giggles and squeals of delight fill the air as they at last get what they have been waiting for. This is the universal language of happiness and joy and there is no mistaking it.


1. The air feels damp now with the threat of rain but nobody seems to be bothered. Everyone continues going about their business around me. I can feel the tiny drops landing on my hair and face. It’s so fine it leaves only a dewy film on my skin.

2. Moving nearer to the sugar cane cart for a closer look, little hands are grabbing at mine and small people are pulling at my pac-a-mac, eager to guide me. Their keenness to please and help me is tangible and shines through their big smiling eyes.

3. I hand over some money and in exchange for my own stick of sugar cane. I try to sink my teeth in but it is hard and stringy almost. I feel like a dog retrieving a stick for my owner. It’s woody! My new little friends, encircling me now, let out raucous laughter at my struggles. They demonstrate again with their own sticks how to get the goodness out.


1. The air is thick with the smells of the market. A weird blend of livestock (and all that comes with that!), spices, bodies and coffee. This smell is familiar and greets me again and again across Africa.

2. Not so usual, there is a smell of warmth in the air. Perhaps it is the smoke from the fire, or maybe the humidity. I’m not sure and I know it doesn’t really make sense to smell a temperature but that’s the only way I can describe it.


1. Sugar Cane does not taste as expected. It is a subtle taste that finally greets my taste buds when I get the hang of sucking and chewing on the bark like stick. It tastes like pure nature, sort of like a clean, sugary sap. Mildly sweet and fresh but blink and you’ll miss it!

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