Ethiopian food is one of the most exciting cuisines in the world.
The cuisines extremely unique and extraordinarily flavorful. While the cuisine of Ethiopia is gradually becoming better known, it’s no overstatement to say it remains one of the world’s best-kept secrets.
In addition to its flavorful dishes, stews, and spices, Ethiopian cuisine also features a strong culture around how food is served and shared with friends and family.
Eating Ethiopian food is a social event, a shared experience that includes everyone around the table and usually involves eating with ones right hand thanks to the use of injera as a sort of utensil. This is not only delicious but also a shocking amount of fun! Adventures in Ethiopia invites you to try Ethiopian cuisine and get fun together with us.
Before every meal in Ethiopia, there is a ritual washing of the hands offered by one of the youngest person from the family.
The meal is then served on a large platter that is draped with crepe like injera (traditional large spongy pancake made of teff flour and water). Teff is unique to the country and is grown on the Ethiopian highlands. Teff, used to make the Ethiopian staple injera, is an ancient grain believed to have originated in Ethiopia between 4000 and 1000 B.C. It is the smallest grain in the world and its name may have come from the Amharic word meaning “lost” because it is so small. It is also popular as a baby food.
All guests eat from this one platter. Various dishes are portioned out onto the injera, and diners simply tear off a piece of the Injera, use it to scoop up some of the various stews and pop it in their mouths. Extra injera may be served on the side. A local Ethiopians barley beer called tella and a honey wine called Tej finally washes down all this meals and strong coffee is served accompanied by snacks like small fried cookies known as Dabo Kolo and a big enough local bread called “Anbasha” or “Difo Dabo”, and Adventures in Ethiopia highly recommend tourists to taste the Ethiopian dishes. They are really very, very delicious and interesting.
So, let’s try!
The first could be the Injera – a sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture. Traditionally made out of teff flour, it is the national dish of Ethiopia. It is central to the dining process in those cultures as bread is the most fundamental component of any meal.
Derek Tibs – there are many variations and styles of tibs, but for the most part it’s a certain type of meat (either beef, lamb, or goat) cooked in Ethiopian butter with a few spices, onions, and peppers.
Derek tibs is the version that’s cooked dry, kind of like stir frying, but just with some butter in a pan and searing the meat until some pieces get crunchy.
It’s often served in a flaming hot earthenware dish with hot coals in the bottom. This keeps the meat sizzling hot and you get some meat crispies at the bottom.
Historically, tibs was served to pay a compliment or show respect to someone. Today it’s still viewed as a special dish, hence its popularity for special events and holidays.
Typically, the meat of the tibs that arrives at your table has just been cleaved from carcasses hanging outside beside the restaurant’s entrance and meat rarely comes fresher or tastier.
Kitfo – while injera is a daily experience for most Ethiopians, kitfo is generally saved for a special occasion or served during national public holidays in the country. Kitfo is Ethiopian beef tartare made from top quality raw beef mixed hot chilli powder. The lean meat is hand-chopped to give it a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and the finished product is often eaten with kocho, a chewy bread made from False Banana.
Kitfo can be served with aib (like dry cottage cheese) and gomen (minced spinach), a recommended pairing making the meal even more delicious, as well as especially filling — highly recommended after a hard day’s traveling or if one is confronted with a hangover after a long night.
Gored gored – is a raw beef dish eaten in Ethiopia. Whereas kitfo is minced beef marinated in spices and clarified butter, gored gored is cubed and left unmarinated. Like kitfo, it is widely popular and considered a national dish. It is often served with mitmita and awazi (a type of mustard and chilli sauce).
Wat – a stew that can be made from vegetables, doro (chicken), asa (fish), kai (beef), shiro (chickpeas) or messer (lentils). The spiciness of the sauces varies according to the amount of berbere – the seasoning blend of spices.
The preparation of a wat begins with chopped onions slow cooked, without any fat or oil, in a dry skillet or pot until much of their moisture has been driven away. Fat is then added, often in quantities that might seem excessive by modern Western standards, and the onions and other aromatics are sautéed before the addition of other ingredients. This method causes the onions to break down and thicken the stew.
Wat is traditionally eaten with injera.
Doro wat is one such stew, made from chicken and sometimes hard-boiled eggs. The chicken is cut into twelve pieces representing the twelve apostles of Jesus Chris.
Without Shiro breakfast is unthinkable. Shiro is a homogeneous stew whose primary ingredient is powdered chickpeas or broad bean meal. It is often prepared with the addition of minced onions, garlic and, depending upon regional variation, ground ginger or chopped tomatoes and chili-peppers. Shiro is served atop injera.
Tegabino shiro is a type of shiro made from heavily spiced legume, chickpea, field pea, or fava bean, oil, and water. It is brought bubbling to the table in a miniature clay pot or shallow aluminum pan. Its true aficionados usually consume it with a dark or sergegna injera.
However, it can be cooked and added to shredded injera or taita and eaten with a spoon; this version is called shiro fit-fit.
It is a vegan food, but there are non-vegan variations with niter kibbeh (a spiced, clarified butter) or meat – bozena shiro.
Shahan ful is generally served for breakfast. It is made by slowly cooking fava beans in water. Once the beans have softened, they are crushed into a coarse paste. It is often served with chopped green onions, tomatoes, and hot green peppers, as well as yogurt, feta cheese, olive oil, tesmi, berbere, lemon juice, cumin, and chili pepper. It is typically eaten without the aid of utensils accompanied with a bread roll.
Fir-fir (fit-fit) – is an Ethiopian food typically served for breakfast. It is generally made with shredded flat bread, spiced clarified butter, and the hot spice berbere. Kitta fit-fit is sometimes eaten with plain yogurt.
Dulet – For the uninitiated, this dish of mixed meats might be more enjoyable if not translated and explained. It’s made with minced tripe (an animal’s stomach lining), along with liver and lean beef fried in butter, onions, chilli, cardamom and pepper. Like kitfo, much of its popularity stems from it being very filling and hitting the spot after a hard-going day or night. Offal has never tasted so good — give it a go.
Asa lebleb – is lightly cooked fish in a flavorful sauce. The spices used in the sauce vary throughout Ethiopia. Asa lebleb is usually only found in fishing towns where the fish is very fresh.
Asa shorba – fish soup. This is perhaps the dish that varies the most throughout Ethiopia.
Asa Goulash – deep fried fish served in a spicy sauce with tomato and onions and eaten with injera. It has no resemblance to goulash whatsoever but this is the name used throughout the country.
Koroso – deep fried fish cut in a checkerboard style so that in can be eaten without cutlery. It is served with lime and a spicy cochcocha dipping sauce. This is the most common preparation of fish and the favorite of many of our guests.
Genfo – is a porridge made with barley or wheat flour. To cook genfo, the flour and water are combined and stirred continuously with a wooden spoon. Genfo is presented in a large mound with a hole in the center, filled with a mixture of niter kibbeh and berbere. This spicy combination is tempered with yogurt which balances the flavors.The porridge may be eaten with the hands or with a spoon.
Tihlo – consists of barley dough balls covered with meat and berbere based sauce often served as a snack. Tihlo is commonly consumed as a side dish or snack, especially in Tigrayan communities.
The barley grain is completely dehulled and milled. Tihlo is made using moistened roasted barley flour that is kneaded to a uniform consistency. The dough is then broken into small balls and laid out around a bowl of spicy meat stew. A two-pronged wooden fork is used to spear the ball and dip it into the sack.
Tihlo is commonly served on cultural holidays.
Himbasha – is an Eritrean and Ethiopian celebration bread that is slightly sweet. It is often served at special occasions.
The dough is given a decorative touch – the shape of a wheel with indentations to create several spokes.
Dabo Kolo – is an Ethiopian snack. They are small pieces of baked bread that are similar to pretzels and kolo (roasted barley, sometimes mixed with other local grains). Kolo made from roasted barley, chickpeas and peanuts are often sold by kiosks and street venders wrapped in a paper cone.
Berbere – a combination of powdered chili pepper and other spices (somewhat analogous to Southwestern American chili powder), is an important ingredient used in many dishes.
Spriss – is mixed by pouring layers of juice — typically from three fruits (made from the likes of avocado, guava, papaya, mango, pineapple and orange) — on top of each other. There’s no water added, no sugar and no ice, just natural juice with a lime squeezed on the top.
Spriss is extremely refreshing and a nice sweet break from all the other spicy foods.
Mitmita – is a powdered seasoning mix used in Ethiopian cuisine. It is orange-red in color and contains ground birdseye chili peppers (piri piri), cardamom seed, cloves and salt. It occasionally has other spices including cinnamon, cumin and ginger.
Miter kibbeh – clarified butter infused with garlic, ginger and several spices.
Tej – Ethiopia’s national drink, Tej, is fermented wine made with honey, water and gesho (Rhamnus prinoides) leaves (used as hops). Visit a tej bet (an establishment that serves tej), and you can order dry or medium dry tej served in berele, a glass vessel with a narrow neck that looks like a beaker. There is no label to tell you the strength of tej, but it is widely said that they are around 12% to 15% alcohol by volume.
Talla (or Tella) – traditionally home-brewed sour beer made from barley, wheat or millet. Depending on where you visit it can range in flavour.
Katikala and araki – are inexpensive local spirits that are very strong. Really very strong!
Atmet – is a barley and oat flour based drink that is cooked with water, sugar and kibe )Ethiopian clarified butter) until the ingredients have arried and become a consistency slightly thicker then egg -nog. Althought this drink is often given to women who are nursing, the sweetness and smooth texture make it a comfort drink for anyone who enjoys its flavour.
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians do not eat meat and diary products (i.e. egg, butter, milk, and cheese) on Wednesdays and Fridays, except the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost, the Fast of the Prophets, the fast of Nineveh, Lent, the Fast of the Apostles and the fast of the Holy Virgin Mary.
According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church belief, the faithful must abstain from eating meat and diary products to attain forgiveness of sins committed during the year, and undergo a rigorous schedule of prayers and atonement.
Vegetarian meals such as lentils, ground split peas, grains, fruit, varieties of vegetable stew accompanied by injera and/or bread are only eaten during fasting days. Meat and diary products are only eaten on feasting days i.e. Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and at all other times. Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, Jews and Muslims do not eat pork as it forbidden by their religious beliefs.
And one small but important thing Adventires in Ethiopia let you know about a gursha (var. gorsha, goorsha) is an act of friendship and love. When eating injera, a person uses his or her right hand to strip off a piece, wraps it around some wat or kitfo, and then puts it into his or her mouth. During a meal with friends or family, it is a common custom to feed others in the group with one’s hand by putting the rolled injera or a spoon full of other dishes into another’s mouth. This is called a gursha, and the larger the gursha, the stronger the friendship or bond (only surpassed by the brewing of tej together).
Adventures in Ethiopia recommend as possible as more to try the Ethiopian meals. Enjoy your trip and your life!
The traditional clay pottery in Ethiopian cuisine.
The most common type is called a shakla dist, and some Ethiopians will swear that the food tastes better when it simmers in earthenware.
The word shakla means “clay” in Amharic, and shakla dist is the name for a clay pot used for cooking stews (spicy wots and milder alichas). There are many varieties of Ethiopian clay pots made in all shapes and sizes, and each shape has its own name. The term shakla dist refers to round pots of various sizes and with lids, usually with handles on the side of the pot and on the top of the lid, and sometimes with a design carved into the clay. A very large shakla dist, used to make big portions of food, is called a setate.
Many of the Ethiopians make shakla distoch and similar forms of pottery, like the very important jebena (coffee pot), thegenbo (a clay jar with a round bottom), the general-purpose masaro, and the taba (a small serving plate), ensira (pot for water), arso (incense burner), mitad (used to bake injera). There’s even a special design for a taba used to serve kitfo, the popular dish of raw seasoned ground meat.
For example – the Ari women who make pottery have four categories: tila, with a wide round bottom and mouth at the top, used for steaming root crops, carrying water and making alcoholic drinks (like t’alla, the traditional Ethiopian beer); aksh, round and flat, for roasting coffee and making injera; disti, that is, the shakla dist.