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Ethiopia's delicious cuisine

by Martha Hales

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As distinctive as it is delicious, the food of Ethiopia is gaining new fans by the day, especially amongst vegans and vegetarians who are particularly well served. Traditional recipes make the most of simple, local ingredients and turn up the flavour using a tastebud-tingling blend of spices known as Berbere. The most popular way for food to be served in Ethiopia is something akin to an Indian Thali, with lots of different spicy curries and accompaniments served together. This makes mealtimes a brilliant opportunity for trying a variety of flavour combinations and sampling several dishes in one go. Here we’ve outlined some of the cornerstones of this delicious cuisine to whet your appetite for an Ethiopian adventure.  

Traditional Ethiopia cuisine

The Berbere spice mix

This fiery, fragrant mix of up to 30 (but more traditionally 16-22) ground spices including chilli, fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, paprika, nutmeg, coriander and cloves is one of the most important flavour factors in Ethiopian cooking.

woman selling berbere spice in Ethiopia

Apparently most families have their own particular combination of spices, but the basic purpose is the same - to add a delicious base layer of fragrant spices along with the warming kick of chilli to a wide variety of dishes. It is added to everything from stews to breakfast bread and honey, and is one of the classic tastes of the nation.

Honey and bread in Ethiopia

‘Fasting’ days of vegan dishes

Ethiopians are faithful people, and the vast majority of Orthodox Christians follow the requirement to fast every Wednesday and Friday. Fasting in this context does not mean abstinence from all food and drink, but rather avoidance of all meat and animal products. So every restaurant makes an effort with enticing vegan dishes at least twice a week, and many cater for vegans every day. Pulses, vegetables and grains are a big part of Ethiopian cuisine, and with the generous addition of spices there are some delicious vegan staples to tuck into. To try a selection, order a Beyaynetu mixed platter.  

Vegan Ethiopian dish

Injera

Every cuisine has a staple carbohydrate component to add bulk to meals, and Ethiopia is no different. You won’t get through a single day here without coming across injera, as it comes as standard with almost everything.

Injera - ethiopian cuisine

A giant, spongy, greyish pancake with a slightly sour flavour may not sound too appetising but it is a mighty useful addition to any meal. It is normally served as the base layer for the platter of varied ‘wats’ which are stews and curries, and the modus operandi is to tear off a piece of injera and use it to scoop up some stew in place of cutlery. Look out for the finest injera, which is pale and smooth and made of teff, a grain grown in the Ethiopian highlands.

Injera flatbread being cooked in Ethiopia

Coffee

Luckily for all the caffeine lovers out there Ethiopia has a thriving coffee culture which, as the original home of the drink, it should have. If you take coffee with locals while you are in Ethiopia, you can expect quite a ceremony. The green beans are roasted from fresh over hot coals and when they begin to smoke and release their aroma the pan of roasting coffee is wafted around for everyone to enjoy.

Coffee roasting in Ethiopian farmhouse

At the same time, incense is added to burning coals in a special container, and the fragrance mingles with the scent of roasting coffee. When the beans are roasted, they are ground and added to the coffee pot where they are heated with water and served in small cups. Alongside the coffee, a sprig of rue is often served, which is an aromatic herb that you can steep in the hot coffee for a few seconds if you like, adding a slight citrus edge to the flavour.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Some other favourite Ethiopian dishes

Shiro is a thick, spicy stew made of ground chickpea flour with the ubiquitous berbere, onions and garlic. It is cooked over a high heat which gradually softens the onions and garlic until the stew is smooth and thick. Doro wat is a rich and spicy red chicken stew which is a staple of home cooking and usually served with a stewed greens side dish and - of course - injera.

Doro wat - ethiopian red chicken curry

Tibs are small chunks of meat pan-fried and served with spicy dipping sauces and mustard. Kitfo is the Ethiopian version of steak tartare, often served in fairly large chunks which you pick up with a small piece of injera and dip into powdered berbere.

Kitfo - ethiopian beef dish

Other drinks to be found in Ethiopia

Other than coffee, which is the nation’s fuel, there are a couple of other classic Ethiopian drinks that are worth trying. Make sure that you try at least one of their freshly squeezed juices as the quality of fruit available sets them apart from anything you can get at home. Mango, papaya, strawberry and avocado are the mainstays, usually pulped and layered into a thick, delicious and colourful cross between a drink and a dessert.

Layered fruit drink in Ethiopia

Tej is another local speciality, an alcoholic drink made from honey. It varies considerably from place to place but is usually yellow in colour and quite strong and sweet.

Tej - Ethiopian honey wine

Make it happen

Enjoy the delicious local cuisine as part of your bespoke Ethiopian trip. If it’s something you wish to explore in depth, our local experts are perfectly placed to make it happen. To get in touch with them directly and explore your options for an Ethiopian adventure, fill in our enquiry form. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.

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