One of the major backpacking circuits in the world is to explore central and northern Ethiopia. I was fortunate enough to see many of the highlights myself during my visit, but one thing struck me more than most: the unremarkable Ethiopian cuisine. Ethiopia is a beautiful country, but for a “westerner” there are some strange customs: no 24hr timekeeping, an almost undecipherable Amharic language, and a cuisine that does not seem to have much variety.
Ethiopians generally eat three meals a day with injera (a sourdough bread) as the centrepiece, on which many stews and dips will be placed. Berbere (a kind of spicy sauce) is the foundation of most dishes and stews. I tried quite a few offerings on my travels in the country, and here are some that I remember most:
Ethiopian Coffee provides an opportunity for people to enjoy coffee in a leisurely setting. Nearly every household is equipped with its own equipment for a coffee ceremony. Beans are roasted in a small pot over an open flame until they are dark and toasted. Next they are hand ground in a mortar and pestle and put in a ceramic coffee pot with water to boil over the open flame.
Injera is the foundation for the typical Ethiopian meal, which consists of three to five stews or dishes heaped on top of it. The secret to injera’s supple tanginess is in the batter. Freshly ground maize or rice flour is mixed with yeast, salt, and water and sometimes ground fenugreek and left to ferment for up to three days. The bubbly batter is then poured on a large hot griddle and steamed under a lid for several minutes.
Chechebsa is a combination of shredded kitcha, berbere, and clarified butter. It is sometimes eaten with plain yogurt. Unlike most Ethiopian foods, I found chechebsa is often eaten with a utensil (usually a spoon).
Mesir Wat is a wonderful vegetarian Ethiopian dish made with lentils. It is a popular dish to serve on top of injera along with other types of wats. It can be made into a vegan dish by omitting the fragrant butter and using vegetable oil instead.
Shiro Fifir is a classic example of “waste not, want not”, as Ethiopians use their leftovers from previous meals to form this popular dish. Tiny parts of rolled injera and stewed vegetables are put in a bowl of broth (usually freshly brewed) and another feast can begin!
Doro Wat is a traditional Ethiopian stew of chicken, eggs, and onions seasoned with a blend of ginger, garlic, and spices, specifically Berbere. Berbere, which literally means “spicy” in the Amharic language, is a mouth-scorching mix of chili peppers, ginger, coriander, fenugreek, cardamom, cinnamon, and other spices, and it’s absolutely critical to this dish. Along with Mesir Wat above, Doro Wat was one of the stews I ate during my short stay in Ethiopia.
Dabo Kolo essentially means “popcorn bread” and it is a lovely crunchy snack, especially for the evenings. Spices, such as berbere, can be added to add extra pizzazz.
Kitfo consists of minced raw beef, marinated in mitmita (a chili powder-based spice blend) and niter kibbeh (a clarified butter infused with herbs and spices). It is often served with a mild cheese called ayibe or cooked greens known as gomen. In many parts of Ethiopia, kitfo is served with injera, and while not considered a delicacy, the dish is held in high regard.
Have you tried any Ethiopian food? Which of the meals listed above looks the tastiest?