Ethiopian Food [Cuisine]

Traditional Ethiopian food served on a round of Injera flatbread

“Ethiopian Food – Will I like it?”

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Ethiopian food is very spicy. It is both full of flavor AND heat.

This means their traditional cuisine is not for the faint of heart – or for those with delicate taste buds.

This is because of their use of Ethiopian Berbere.

Berbere (promounced bare-BARE-ee) is the name of a chili pepper and a spice blend that Ethiopians use to preserve and flavor their food.

in some parts of the culinary world, Ethiopian berbere is fast becoming a cooking staple and is taking a seat next to other famous spice blends such as South Indian curry powder or Jamaican jerk seasoning.

That being said, berbere is a strong spice blend with it own unique flavor.

Some people like it, others not as much. But don’t worry, if you don’t … there are plenty of western-style restaurants available.

A little later on we’ll talk about the other popular foods found in Ethiopia cooking.

But first, let’s talk about etiquette for a moment…

Traditionally, Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands. The right hand is used to tear off a piece of injera (flatbread), wrap some meat and vegetables inside, and eat.

The left hand is considered unclean in Ethiopian culture, so try to remember to eat with only your right hand.

While your left hand should never used to put food into your mouth, it is allowed for assistance when holding or tearing (your own) food.

NEVER use your left hand on a communal plate though. And licking your fingers is considered be very impolite.

The good thing for left-handed people: you are allowed to change hands but stick to one hand.

When your host feeds you a small bite (gursha) it is a special homor which always should be accepted and always comes in twofold. It is appreciated when you return the favor.

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Ethiopian food
Tomato Soup & Ethiopian Greens served on a round of Injera

The 10 Most Popular Ethiopian Foods

Besides berbere and kibbe, a spicy clarified butter, below are the ten foods you will probably encounter the most during your adventure in Ethiopia.

Coffee – Ethiopians are super-proud of their coffee, which they grow domestically. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and still grows hundreds of varieties most people have never tasted before. The traditional way to enjoy it is with a coffee ceremony after your meal.

Injera – A sourdough-style flatbread with a slightly spongy texture. Made from fermented teff flour. You will always be served a plate or platter of Ethiopian food on top of a round of Injera.

The color, taste and texture of the injera varies, like the debate about sweet vs. non-sweet cornbread divides American taste buds.

Tibs (sautéed meat chunks) – usually made from meat (beef or lamb) cut into small chunks and sautéed in butter with onions, garlic, hot pepper and herbs.

Wat (Wot) – a stew or curry that is made from chicken, beef, lamb or a variety of vegetables such as lentils with garlic onions.

Doro Wat (Ethiopian Chicken Stew) – considered by many to be the national dish of Ethiopia.

Soups & Salad – usually soups are tomato-based and salads are made from cucumbers or tomatoes and other fresh, seasonal vegetables.

Gomen (Ethiopian-Style Collard Greens) – sautéed with using oil or spiced butter (Kibbe).

Lab (Ethiopian Cheese) – Similar to cottage cheese

Shiro (legume stew) – This reddish bean dish is made by combining a flour of ground broad beans and/or chickpeas with kibbe (spiced clarified butter).

Kitfo (Ketfo) – is a minced raw meat dish mixed with kibbe, the spiced clarified butter. Has a texture similar to Steak Tartar. Usually served as part of holiday or special occasion.

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“I’m vegetarian. What can I eat?”

You are in luck. According to Petit World Citizen,

“Ethiopians are predominantly Orthodox Christians so many follow the fasting days prescribed by the Church.

There are many fasting days—every Wednesday and Friday, and during Lent. In Ethiopia, fasting doesn’t mean refraining from all food. Instead, one is to eliminate all animal products (meat, dairy, eggs, etc.) from the diet.

Basically, they adhere to a vegan diet during fasting days. As a result, Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are vegan.”

This means Ethiopian cooks will happy to serve you a “Yetsom Beyaynetu” or vegetarian combination platter. 

Usually this consists of any of their prepared vegetable dishes of the day served on a platter of Injera. Or if its Wednesday or Friday then you can just have what everyone else is eating.