By far the best food we tried while cycling Africa was in Ethiopia. When we came back to Canada, we made a point of finding an Ethiopian restaurant to enjoy an authentic experience while eating delicious Ethiopian food. Eating Ethiopian isn’t just about the cuisine, it is about the experience. While we can’t travel to Ethiopia at the moment due to civil unrest and government instability, we can search for places to enjoy Ethiopian food or even try our hand at making it at home.
If you want to sample Ethiopian dishes in your local area, you’ll soon find that Ethiopian food is one of the most exciting cuisines out there.
What is Ethiopian Food Like?
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Distinctive and delicious, food in Ethiopia serves as the perfect representation of a country full of cultural heritage that stands apart from the rest of Africa. But, while Ethiopian cuisine is becoming more well-known around the world, it’s still considered one of the world’s best-kept culinary secrets.
If you’re yet to try Ethiopian food, you’re in for a treat. But it’s not just the flavors and combinations that make Ethiopian dishes such a special experience, it’s also the presentation, colors, ceremony, and communal spirit that eating Ethiopian-style involves. Are you ready to ditch the cutlery and dig in? Let’s take a look at some of the best Ethiopian food to try at home or abroad!
About Ethiopian Food
Spices, stews, and curries feature heavily in Ethiopian cuisine. But the most distinctive feature of Ethiopian cuisine is how these dishes are usually presented on top of a giant pancake-like bread called injera that serves as both the meal’s plate and utensils. To eat, diners tear off pieces of injera with their hands and use them to scoop up the food. But remember, if you’re in Ethiopia, try to only eat with your right hand as Ethiopians consider the left hand unclean.
Aside from a delicious array of meat dishes, Ethiopia is home to a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. For religious reasons, many Ethiopians don’t eat certain foods, such as shellfish and pork, while the religion of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church enforces vegetarian diets on Wednesdays, Fridays, and throughout the entire Lent period.
This spongy bread is the cornerstone of almost all Ethiopian meals. When made in the original style with 100-percent tef flour, the bread is naturally gluten-free and vegan.
You might find injera to be bitter, tangy, and even slightly sour the first time you try it, especially if you expecting something like Indian naan bread. But you’ll soon see that injera is the perfect accompaniment to the flavorsome dishes and spicy combinations that Ethiopians eat using their injera. If you want to make your own Injira at home check out this delicious recipe.
For anyone who travels for food, discovering new street eats is a huge draw. Although most Ethiopian food is quite ceremonial, sambusas – the Ethiopian equivalent of samosas – are a common street food you’ll want to try if you visit the country. These deep-fried pockets of dough are usually filled with either seasoned ground beef or spiced lentils.
3. Doro Wat
Wat, also spelled as wot, is one of the most common terms when it comes to food in Ethiopia. This general term refers to a stew made with a combination of spices, meats, and vegetables.
Of all the varieties of wat, doro wat is the most popular. This spicy stew combines chicken, hard-boiled eggs, tomato paste, garlic, caramelized onions, and ginger. Considered an Ethiopian national dish, doro wat is often served as part of a communal platter offering a range of different dishes and sides. Try it tonight with this recipe.
Genfo is a typical Ethiopian breakfast, consisting of a porridge made with barley or wheat flour eaten with a sauce made from berbere and niter kibbeh. You’ll most likely see this dish presented as a mound with the butter and spice mixture in the center for dipping purposes. Like many Ethiopian dishes, genfo is a communal dish that most locals eat by hand, although it’s not uncommon to eat it with a fork or spoon instead.
5. Kik Alicha
Wondering what the best Ethiopian food to try is if you don’t have a high tolerance for spicy food? Kik alicha is a great option. This Ethiopian stew contains split peas, niter kibbeh (Ethiopian-spiced clarified butter), and turmeric. But, unlike many Ethiopian dishes, it doesn’t contain any of the super spicy berbere that gives dishes like doro wat their signature kick.
6. Misir Wat
If you’re looking for a vegetarian dish with a kick, look no further than misir wat. This fiery stew contains red lentils, berbere, and niter kibbeh, as well as garlic, onions, and tomato paste. Often served as part of a vegetarian or mixed communal platter, misir wat is best eaten with good company and plenty of injera.
Tibs is another must-try food in Ethiopia, referring to various cuts of beef or lamb pan-fried in butter, onion, and garlic. Tibs can be hot or mild, and may or may not come with vegetables, depending on the specific dish and restaurant.
One of the most dramatic and delicious ways to enjoy the true ceremony of Ethiopian food is to order shekla tibs, where the meat arrives at your table roasting in a clay pot stoked with hot coals. While tibs remains a special food for commemorating holidays and events, you’ll see a lot of people ordering this dish in rowdy bars in Addis Ababa and beyond. Make your own Tibs tonight with this recipe.
8. Shiro Wat
Like doro wat, shiro wat is a popular Ethiopian dish that you’re sure to find on a combination platter. Made from ground chickpea flour cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chili peppers, and ginger, shiro wat has a smooth and creamy hummus-like texture that’s perfect for eating with shreds of injera.
If your tastes are more steak than stew, you should definitely try kitfo. This Ethiopian beef tartare is made with raw minced beef flavored with niter kibbeh and a spice blend called mitmita. It’s often served with a mild cheese called ayib or gomen (cooked greens), and, of course, injera.
If you’re looking for the full experience and want to try the raw version, it’s best to go to an Ethiopian restaurant that specializes in kitfo such as Yohanness Kitfo in Addis Ababa. Or, if you’re not sure about raw meat, you can always ask for kitfo leb leb, meaning “warmed not cooked” or kitfo betam leb leb, meaning “very warmed”, i.e. cooked!
Combining green lentils, chopped tomatoes, green chilies, and red onions, Azifa is Ethiopia’s answer to pico de gallo. Often served as part of a combination platter, this vegan and gluten-free dish is ideal as an entry point for unadventurous eaters who still want to sample the flavors of Ethiopia.
Fuul is a popular dish in East Africa and the Middle East made from stewed and spiced fava beans that many Ethiopians eat for breakfast. Regular Fuul is made for one, served with an endless supply of fresh bread for eating and dipping. Special Fuul, in contrast, is large enough to share and served with tomato, green chili, onion, egg, yogurt, and sometimes avocado.
12. Siga Wat
Siga wat is similar to doro wat except it contains beef instead of chicken. Thanks to plenty of berbere spice mix, this stew is hot and fiery. Although, you can also find a milder version, made without berbere. If you’re looking for a hit of spice, the dish is called keye siga wat, while the non-spicy version is called alecha siga wat.
Chechebsa, also called fit-fit, is another popular breakfast in Ethiopia, although it’s one of the few dishes not eaten with your hands. Instead, you’ll see the locals using a spoon to tuck into this combination of shredded and lightly fried injera and onions cooked in a spicy red sauce and served with honey and eggs, not dissimilar to the popular Moroccan food, shakshuka.
14. Yetsom Beyaynetu
While not a specific Ethiopian dish, you’ll often see Yetsom Beyaynetu on the menu in restaurants across Ethiopia, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. It refers to a mixed platter of vegan dishes served with injera, Yetsom meaning “fasting” and Beyaynetu meaning “a bit of everything”. As such, while it’s designed for locals observing religious rules, it’s also the perfect way to try a range of meat-free Ethiopian dishes in one sitting.
15. Ethiopian Coffee
Although it’s not Ethiopian food, coffee is such an important part of Ethiopian culture, we had to include it.
In stark contrast to the takeout coffees, we sip solo in Western societies, coffee drinking in Ethiopia is a ceremonious social event that involves washing, roasting, and grinding the beans before brewing them in a traditional clay coffee pot called a jebena. Once it’s ready, the host pours the coffee into cups for everyone to enjoy alongside traditional Ethiopian snacks. It’s also considered rude to leave without having at least three cups of coffee since Ethiopians believe your spirit will transform after these three rounds.
Try This Ethiopian Food at Home or Abroad
If you think it could be a while before you’re lucky enough to travel to Ethiopia to enjoy these dishes alongside the locals, don’t worry! The growing popularity of Ethiopian food means that it’s getting easier to find Ethiopian restaurants in your local area.
All you need to do is search, “Ethiopian food near me” and you’re sure to find somewhere you can head to sample these delicious delights for yourself. And, thanks to this guide, you’ll now have a much better idea of what to order and how to eat it!
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