Traditional Ethiopian Food – Culture, Main Dishes and Ingredients

Coffee beans on Ethiopia map

Ethiopian food is one of the cuisines from around the world that allows western travelers to explore a broader and more varied diet. If you are unfamiliar with Ethiopian food then, whether you seek out an Ethiopian restaurant, or visit Ethiopia for yourself, it is well worthwhile giving the traditional food of this African country a go.

Ethiopian Traditions & Food Related Culture

Ethiopian cuisine is characterized by vegetable and often extremely spicy meat dishes, often in the form of stews. These stews are often served on top of injera, large sourdough flatbreads that are made out of fermented teff flour. Traditionally, people in Ethiopia eat with their right hands, and use the flatbreads to pick up scoops of the stews and side dishes.

When eating injera, there is a tradition in Ethiopia called gursha. This is an act of friendship and love, which involves picking up a mouthful of food and feeding it to another in the group by hand. The larger the gursha, the stronger the friendship or bond.

For religious or other cultural reasons, many Ethiopians abstain from eating pork, or other certain meats. Shellfish is also often avoided. Many Ethiopians eat mostly vegetarian and vegan foods. Strict fasting periods are sometimes also observed by certain religious groups.

Traditional Ethiopian Ingredients

Certain ingredients characterise many Ethiopian dishes:

  • These include niter kibbeh, a type of clarified butter that is infused with garlic, ginger and several other spices.
  • Berbere, a combination of chilli pepper and other spices is also often used.
  • Another spice mix common to Ethiopian food is mitmita, which contains ground birdseye chillies, cardamom seeds, cloves and salt.  It may also include other spices such as cumin, ginger and cinnamon.
  • Nug (niger seed) is another common ingredient in much Ethiopian cuisine.

Instead of using animal fats, which are sometimes prohibited during fasting periods, vegetable cooking oils such as safflower, and sesame, are often used, along with many other vegetarian oils.

Ethiopian Main Dishes

* One of the staple main dishes of Ethiopian food is Wat. Wat is a type of stew, and there are many different variants of this dish, such as the vegetarian atkilt wat, birsin wat (with lentils) or kikki wat (with split peas).

* Where meat is eaten, this often takes the form of specially seasoned tibs. These chunks of meat can range from hot to mild and contain few or no vegetables. There are also many variations of this delicacy.

* There are different main dishes to discover that are traditional for Ethiopia’s different ethnic groups such as the Oromo and Gurage. Each community will tend to have its own specific nomenclature, ingredients and spice mixes.

In Conclusion

There is far more to learn about Ethiopian food. So why not try tasting some of the traditional dishes for yourself? Trying something new could be a great way to expand your horizons, whether you are actually traveling in Ethiopia, or exploring the food offerings elsewhere in the world.

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