Ethiopian cuisine which comes from an overlooked country in North Africa is currently marking its territory on the global food map with exquisite and flavourful dishes. The cuisine is typically spicy and has a lot of meat and vegetable preparations which cater to all kinds of eaters: lactose-free, gluten-free, vegan, meat lovers and vegetarians. Because Ethiopians believe in fasting periods when they exclude meat and eggs, vegans can find varied options to choose from.
What is most spectacular about this cuisine is that food is not supposed to be eaten alone; sharing a meal with your family and loved ones is a crucial part of enjoying a traditional Ethiopian meal. It is only here one shows respect or love by taking a bite off somebody else’s plate. Expressing love through food is one of the oldest and most revered existing culinary traditions and one can experience this in Ethiopia. Using hands instead of cutlery to eat food is another way of expressing gratitude and respect for the cuisine.
The native spices used in the cooking of the various dishes set the cuisine apart and imparts a unique taste. The most common spice mixture used is called berbere which usually comprises of chilli, pepper, garlic, fenugreek, ginger, basil, ajwain and nigella.
Another popular spice mixture used extensively is the Mitmita which is a combination of aromatics like chilli peppers, cloves and cardamom and to add more flavour, may even contain cinnamon and ginger. Instead of using oil for cooking the dishes, Ethiopians use Niter Kibbeh which is a form of clarified butter and has spicy undernotes.
The most authentic dish in this cuisine is the injera made from a grain called teff which is ground into flour-like consistency and made into a batter. It is further fermented and then cooked on a skillet like a pancake.
The texture of the Ethiopian pancake is soft and it tastes slightly sour but the most effective use of the injera is that it is used as a spoon to eat the lentils, vegetables and meat piled on top. Usually the food is served on a large platter known as the gebeta where the injera forms the base and a mix of dishes are piled on top.
Another popular and absolutely heavenly dish to consume here is the Misir Wat made of lentils which are cooked till a stew-like consistency is achieved. Cooked with local spices, this red-lentil soup is a delicacy for all food-lovers. An Ethiopian delicacy which will make you fall in love with salads is the Salata also known as the Timatim (tomato) Salad. Fresh and crisp tomatoes are diced and mixed with onions and chillies and seasoned heavily with olive oil and lime. This salad is paired with the staple injera and makes for a healthy and filling meal.
As a meat lover, the Derek Tibs is definitely a treat; it is a chunk of beef or goat fried in loads of butter and seasoned with rosemary and garlic. Served with dipping sauce called awaze and injera, this dish is something you’ll keep going back for. Other dishes you can’t miss out on are the fasolia which are string beans sautéed with carrots and caramelized onions and the Key Wat which is a spicy and aromatic beef stew.
Ethiopia is home to many varieties of coffee and is naturally, the most popular drink in the country. Coffee beans are grown in small quantities by people and if you’re lucky, you might come across a few undiscovered variants. Espresso is the most preferred coffee drink which is brewed over a charcoal brazier in a clay urn and is served after a meal. Another popular beverage the Ethiopians are fiercely loyal to is Tej which is brewed with raw, smoky honey.
Also known as the honey wine, this beverage is yellow in colour which comes from the addition of gesho and a variant of buckthorn. Tella is the local beer which is made of teff and sorghum and layered with traditional, native spices. People usually serve home-brewed varieties to people who visit their homes
Ethiopians are not too keen on having desserts as their meals are quite heavy and filling and because the land is associated with famine. However, because of the availability of different kinds of honey, this cuisine does offer a few simple yet mouth-watering desserts to complete a meal. The most popular sweet treat to gorge on is the pasti which is inspired by Italian dishes while its appearance resembles a doughnut.
It is fried dough with a hole in the centre and is sprinkled with powdered sugar. Sweet injera drizzled with fresh, unprocessed honey after the main course is also a light option. A few local pastries can also be devoured as they aren’t too sweet or heavy but totally fresh and dairy-free.
We hope you get an opportunity to taste this exotic cuisine soon and your taste buds get bowled over with the flavours and textures.
Try checking out : Guide to Tibetan Cuisine
Written byNiharika Nandi
Niharika Nandi is a media trainee who loves exploring the fields of photography and baking simultaneously. She’s a self-proclaimed professional bathroom singer and believes that caffeine runs through her veins. This adrenaline junkie loves to pen down a million thoughts gushing through her mind at any instant and is very vocal about LGBTQ rights.