Trying a new cuisine can be intimidating, from finding where to eat, then scratching your head as you look through a menu that looks completely foreign to you. This is probably how you’ll feel stepping into an Ethiopian restaurant for the first time. To give you some confidence and knowledge on Ethiopian food, today we’ll talk all about the cuisine as well as the dishes you ought to try!
To begin with, Ethiopian food is a communal affair. Food is rarely meant to be eaten alone in Ethiopian culture. And a very heartwarming gesture is ‘gursha’, which refers to feeding family or friends a bite. You’ll see it quite often when eating with local Ethiopians. And since food is mostly eaten with hands, this is a very loving and intimate gesture.
Another thing to keep in mind are the ‘fasting days’ in Ethiopia. On Wednesdays, Fridays and Lent, almost everyone eats a vegan diet. You’ll be hard pressed to find meat on those days, unless it’s a tourist restaurant. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you’ll thoroughly enjoy Ethiopian food since you’ll find many options on the menu. Regardless of your dietary preferences, here are seven Ethiopian dishes to know.
Injera is not really a dish, but it’s the staple in Ethiopian food. Injera is a fermented flatbread made from teff. In place of forks and spoons, injera is used to scoop up other dishes, from greens to beans to chunks of meat. In an Ethiopian restaurant, you’ll order the dishes you like and they are normally served on top of a big piece of injera. You start by tearing off a piece from the edges (right hands only please!) and then using it to pick up a bite-sized amount of food. As you get to the end of the meal you’ll reach the bottom of the injera, which is soaked in all the wonderful flavours and gravy!
2. Shiro wat
You’ll see the word ‘wat’ a lot in Ethiopian cuisine, which generally stands for ‘stew’. Shiro wat is a dish made from chickpeas, broad bean flour, garlic, onions and berbere spices cooked into a thick paste. You can think of berbere as the masala in Ethiopian food. It is a blend of different spices and used in many dishes. Non-vegetarian shiro wat will usually also include lots of Ethiopian butter known as niter kibbeh, but the vegan-friendly ones are made with some olive oil instead.
3. Misir wat
Misir wat is another vegetarian staple in Ethiopian cuisine. If you order a platter for your meals, more often than not you’ll find misir wat amongst the selections. Made with red lentils, onions, garlic, niter kibbeh, tomato paste and a generous amount of berbere, the dish is spicy, aromatic and flavourful.
4. Doro wat
Doro wat is chicken curry, and it is often called the national dish of Ethiopia. Authentic doro wat are made with Ethiopian chickens raised on small farms, rather than the larger “farangi” (foreigner) chickens. It is a staple on special occasions such as family gatherings, religious holidays, and weddings. Although it is a dish mostly made at home, you will be able to find it in some restaurants in Addis Ababa. You can also find a beef variation, known as sega wat.
5. Fir fir
Fir fir is a typical Ethiopian breakfast, consisting of shredded leftover injera that’s stir-fried with berbere and niter kibbeh. The spicy, carb heavy meal is also sometimes mixed with leftover shiro or meat stews. The pieces of injera soak up a lot of liquid and it’s a tart, juicy meal. The dish is served cool, sometimes even with ice cubes in it! Definitely one of the more unusual Ethiopian food that you should try.
If you enjoy beef tartare, you should definitely try kitfo. It is ground raw beef mixed with mitmita spices and niter kibbeh, a melt-in-your-mouth dish often served at special occasions. If raw meat isn’t your thing, you can order leb leb instead, which is very slightly cooked. Along with injera, it is also served with a special flatbread called kocho.
7. Ethiopian coffee
If you love coffee, then you should know that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Ethiopians are very proud of their coffee, which they grow domestically and harvest on a small scale. Buna is a traditional coffee ceremony, where the woman of the household will roast, grind and brew the coffee in a special pot known as a jebana. They are served in small, handleless cups alongside snacks like popcorn, peanuts, or himbasha.