What Makes Ethiopian Food Culture Unique? | Absolute Ethiopia

Whenever you travel, it’s not just the sights and sounds of a different culture that are alluring – it’s the food as well.  And travelling to Ethiopia is no exception. Ethiopian cuisine is rich and flavorful, with a wide diversity of cultural dishes and drinks. But what makes Ethiopian food culture unique?

Ethiopians take great pride in preserving their traditional heritage. For them, the eating of food is much like a ceremony, with everyone sitting around the table and slowly savoring the meal. It’s encouraged to eat with your hands using Injera, a national dish, to scoop up delicious stews, lentils, and meats.

Ethiopia tours are a wonderful way to explore this African country. Let’s take a closer look at a few of the traditional foods of Ethiopia that you need to put on your travel itinerary and find out what makes Ethiopian food culture unique and different from other cultures.

Flavors of Ethiopia

Flavor is taken to a whole new level in Ethiopia, using fragrant spices that add an exotic taste to the food. One of the more common seasonings is berbere. Made with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, sacred basil, and other spices, berbere is a blend of spices that creates a unique flavor you won’t taste anywhere else. Other spices used in many Ethiopian dishes include turmeric and mitmita, another blend of spices.

Injera – The Ethiopian Flatbread

Injera is the base behind most Ethiopian meals. Not only is Injera used to pick up your food, it’s used to accompany stews and other dishes. Much like a sourdough flatbread, Injera is made with teff flour, an Ethiopian grain, and is fermented for three days before being fried on a griddle. Injera has a slightly tangy taste, with a texture much like a pancake.

In Ethiopian homes and restaurants, you’ll find Injera laid out on a plate, topped with a variety of stews, salads, and cooked vegetables. Food is presented in some other countries in this way, however the flavors and spices are unique to Ethiopia, so be sure to indulge on your visit. One of these plates is a meat platter known as Maheberawi, where you’ll find a selection of beef stews, stir fried meats, and ground beef. Find out how to make Injera in this video by one of our clients’ trip.

Spicy Meat Dishes

A staple when it comes to meat dishes is Tibs – small pieces of meat that are sautéed with rosemary twigs and onion in a spiced butter. Don’t let the simplicity of this dish fool you. It’s delicious served on Injera along with some spiced lentils.

Another meat favorite is Kitfo, however this dish is typically served on special occasions, such as national holidays. Kitfo is a beef tartare, made with raw beef that’s blended with hot and spicy chili powder. Before you decide that raw beef isn’t for you, think again. With its perfect amount of spice, this dish will melt in your mouth. If you can find Kitfo on the menu, don’t leave Ethiopia without giving it a try.

Savory and Spicy Stews

The stews of Ethiopia are famous wherever this cuisine is served. Known as Wat, these stews are considered one of the national dishes of the country. You’ll find variations of Wat throughout Ethiopia using chicken, beef, and goat, but the premise is the same – Wat is a rich stew that is slowly cooked for hours so the spices and flavors are infused in the dish.

One variation of Wat is Dorowat, made with chicken breast simmered in a sweet and spicy onion sauce using berbere spice for the flavoring. Since this dish takes some time to prepare, when you’re on tour in Ethiopia, make an effort to find a restaurant that serves it!

Ethiopian Vegetarian Dishes

If you’re looking for a vegetarian option, Ethiopian cuisine won’t disappoint. There are some standard meatless dishes for you to seek out. Shiro is one of these dishes, a stew made from chickpea flour, tomatoes, and onions. Seasoned with berbere and other spices such as garlic, Shiro can be served on its own but is often featured on mixed vegetarian platters, such as the Yetsom Beyaynetu plate.

Misir Wat is another vegetarian dish that is popular on many menus. This red lentil stew is spicy without being too hot. Slowly simmered, Misir Wat uses sautéed onion, garlic, cardamom, and berbere spice to create a comforting and delicious vegetarian stew.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

No list of traditional Ethiopian food is complete without mention of coffee. Ethiopians take their coffee very seriously, treating coffee time more as a ceremonial part of the day that can take 20 minutes just to prepare. In a traditional ceremony, the raw green coffee beans are roasted using a charcoal oven before grinding. The ground beans are then put into a jebena, a container used to brew Ethiopian coffee. Coffee is typically served in small cups without handles. Don’t skip out on this coffee tradition while you’re touring the country – make it a time to sit back and enjoy the ambiance of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s National Drink – Honey Wine

You won’t want to miss giving Tej a try – a fermented wine that’s the national drink of Ethiopia. Made with honey, water, and gesho leaves, Tej is often served after dinner, much like a sweet liquor. The honey flavor shines through, with an earthy sweet taste. Tej will usually be served to you in a berele, a glass container that looks much like a vase. Sitting back with the locals and sharing a berele of Tej is a great way to experience the Ethiopian culture.

Dining Ethiopian Style

As well as all these traditional Ethiopian foods for you to try, if possible, stick to the cultural way of only eating with your hands. Ethiopians only use their right hand for eating, as the left hand is considered to be unclean. However, with Ethiopia becoming such a popular country to visit, many restaurants will happily provide you with a fork and knife.

When you travel to Ethiopia, you’ll be wonderfully surprised by the food on offer. Rich, spicy, and flavorful…there’s an Ethiopian meal waiting for you. These foods are what makes Ethiopian food culture unique from the foods in other countries…these are the foods waiting for you when you travel to Ethiopia!