Ethiopian food is rich in vegetables and spicy meats, frequently in a stewed form. You will be hard-pressed to find a fork, knife, or spoon at a table in Ethiopia, as most of the food is eaten with a sourdough flatbread called Injera.
What’s Special About Ethiopian Food?
Fasting is a frequent practice throughout Ethiopia. Wednesdays and Fridays are typical fasting periods outside of Lent. While you will find some meat dishes, often Ethiopian food is vegetarian or vegan. Animal fats are rarely used in cooking; seed and vegetable oils are common.
Spices are a big part of traditional Ethiopian food, and typically the spice blend Berbere is used in many dishes. Berbere consists of chili pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg, and cumin and is commonplace in stews.
Along with Berbere, Nitter Kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter, is used for frying things like bread and eggs, giving them lots of flavors. Due to all the spices and seasoning used, there is never any flavor or spice lacking in Ethiopian cuisine!
Aromatic, tangy, and spicy flavors are typical in this versatile and unique cuisine. Read on to learn more about traditional Ethiopian foods in Ethiopia to try.
Most Famous Ethiopian Food
Injera is found along with almost every meal enjoyed in Ethiopian cuisine. This Ethiopian staple is a spongy, sour, fermented pancake-like bread used instead of silverware to scoop up bits of meat or vegetables.
The Injera’s tangy flavor complements many Ethiopian dishes’ spiciness and bold flavor. Made of teff, an ancient grain first cultivated in Ethiopia, Injera is considered a superfood because it is rich in calcium, protein, and iron and is gluten-free. Teff is also the highest of all grains in fiber.
Injera is often served on a large platter underneath various stews and meats, soaking up the flavors and sauces. In addition, Injera will also come on the side in a basket, rolled up into individual serving-size portions to be shared amongst the table.
To properly eat Injera with your stewed meats or lentils, use your right hand to tear off a long strip of the spongy flatbread. From there, smaller pieces can be ripped off and used as a vehicle for each scoop and bite of the Ethiopian dishes.
If you are familiar with eating the local way with your hands in Indian cuisine, this should be a breeze.
Ethiopian Food: Breakfast
Chechebsa (Thin Crispy Bread with Butter and Berbere)
Also known as Kita Fir-Fir, this well-loved and typical breakfast dish is a traditional Ethiopian food. This simple dish is full of flavors and made of shredded Injera flatbread, berbere spice blend, onions, and spiced clarified butter called niter kibbeh.
There are different variations of Chechebsa throughout Ethiopia. Sometimes, meat sauces are added to the dish, as well as raw chili peppers and even a side of yogurt to stir into this filling Ethiopian food.
Chechebsa is the rare exception to using utensils in Ethiopian cuisine, as it is typically eaten using a spoon. Still, it is not uncommon to have a side of Injera bread served along with this delicious traditional Ethiopian dish.
Genfo (Barley Flour Porridge)
Genfo is a versatile traditional Ethiopian food made with wheat or barley flour stirred continuously with hot water until a thick and silky porridge is formed. The Genfo is placed in a bowl, and a round well is made in the center. Inside, butter, spices, or even yogurt is filled in to be eaten with the Genfo.
Genfo is similar to the Arab dish, Asida, which is also comes sweet or more savory. The primary difference between the two is that Genfo is most typically served with clarified butter and pureed red pepper at its center.
Fatira (Flatbread Pancake with Egg and Honey)
Unlike a typical American pancake, Fatira is a pancake-like traditional food in Ethiopia enjoyed for breakfast as well. Often found as street food, Fatira is made of flour, salt, and water and almost always includes scrambled eggs on top or inside.
Thin sheets of dough are stacked on top of one another, creating a squared pancake cooked on a cast-iron grill. Fatira can be served with honey, or for a savory breakfast, a typical spice blend of berbere is added along with peppers, onions, and tomatoes. This versatile dish is an excellent example of Ethiopian cuisine’s use of spices to transform simple ingredients.
Enkulal FirFir (Spiced Scrambled Eggs)
Another simple dish in Ethiopian cuisine is Enkulal FirFir, or spiced scrambled eggs. The typical combination of the spice blend berbere, tomato paste, niter kibbeh, and chili peppers gives simple eggs tons of flavor.
The spices in this familiar traditional Ethiopian food give it a unique color that makes it stand out amongst plain scrambled eggs.
Enkulal FirFir is often enjoyed with a filling bread called Kita. Made of teff flour, wheat flour, nigella seeds, and vegetable oil, like Injera, you can use it to scoop eggs up and eat them instead of a utensil.
Fuul (Spiced Fava Beans)
Like many meals in Ethiopian cuisine, you can eat Fuul for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. This hearty spiced fava bean dish is often served as a side, along with meats or other stewed vegetables, and is a filling breakfast.
Fuul usually comes with bread such as Injera and is topped with yogurt, avocado, and even egg. Fuul is traditionally served in a metal bowl that is almost too hot to touch and you can find it in restaurants or even as street food.
Ethiopian Food: Stews
Shiro Wat (Chickpea Stew)
Shiro Wat is a delicious Ethiopian food made of stewed chickpeas and many warming spices. This delicacy is slowly stewed, increasing its flavors and complexity, like many dishes in Ethiopian cuisine.
Shiro Wat is packed full of protein from the chickpeas and is on the thick side from the long cooking time. Onion and garlic are often added to this traditional Ethiopian food for flavor and nutrition.
You can usually find Shiro Wat served alongside other vegetarian dishes over Injera for a healthy and filling meal.
Kik Alicha (Split Pea Stew)
Kik Alicha is a mild vegetarian stew made of stewed yellow split peas, ginger, and turmeric. Like many dishes in Ethiopian cuisine, Kik Alicha gets most of its flavoring from niter kibbeh, a spiced clarified butter.
Wholly vegetarian and gluten-free, Kik Alicha is a healthy dish that is not spicy like many other Ethiopian dishes. There is no additional berbere added to Kik Alicha, giving it more flavor from its aromatics rather than lots of spices.
Misir Wat (Spiced Red Lentils)
Alongside Kik Alicha and Shiro Wat, you will often find Misir Wat, another stewed vegetarian Ethiopian food. Made of red lentils, vegetables, and spices, Misir Wat is very flavorful.
Misir Wat is a traditional Ethiopian food that uses the common spice berbere and niter kibbeh to give it spiciness. Unlike Kik Alicha, which is very mild, Misir Wat is very spicy due to the additional berbere and niter kibbeh added to the stew before being served.
Misir Wat also comes alongside Injera, as is typical of most Ethiopian cuisine.
Atakilt Wat (Cabbage, Potato, and Carrot Stew)
This hearty Ethiopian dish is more of a stir-fry than a slowly stewed meal. Like most Ethiopian dishes, a heavy amount of spices and aromatics are combined to create layers of flavor and seasoning.
To make Atakilt Wat, thinly sliced carrots, cabbage, and potatoes are sauteed until slightly softened with oil, garlic, and onions. Then, the dish is covered and cooked over low heat for less than an hour before being served. The result is tasty traditional Ethiopian food that is healthy and full of nutrition.
Doro Wat (Spicy Chicken Stew)
Doro Wat is the only meat-based stew on this list, and for a good reason, since meat is used sparingly in Ethiopian cuisine. It is similar to a curry, made with drumsticks and chicken wings in a heavily spiced sauce.
Butter, chili, cardamom, and berbere give Doro Wat its unique flavors, and a hard-boiled egg is typically served in the stew. Like all stewed Ethiopian dishes, you can expect Injera alongside the meal to be used as a utensil to pick up chunks of meat and sauce.
Doro Wat is one of the common Ethiopian dishes ssen during celebrations and religious festivals.
Ethiopian Food: Meat and Fish Dishes
If you are looking for more meat dishes, fret not. There are still many options in Ethiopian cuisine apart from the stews.
Tibs (Sauteed Meat Chunks)
Tibs is a traditional food in Ethiopia made of sliced lamb or beef. The meat is sauteed in butter, onion, and garlic and sometimes served in a clay pot over hot coals.
Tibs is one of the most popular Ethiopian dishes made of meat. You will most commonly see it during special occasions or holidays and as a sign of respect to guests. Complemented by Injera, Tibs can also be a very spicy dish if cooked with hot peppers.
This popular meat dish varies depending on the cut of meat used, and there are generally little or no vegetables incorporated into the dish.
Tere Siga (Cubes of Raw Meat)
Tere Siga is a raw meat dish known as a true delicacy in Ethiopia. Typically served as a hunk of raw meat that you carve yourself, Tere Siga is a unique part of Ethiopian cuisine.
A spice blend known as Mitmita is often brought along with the Tere Siga for dipping and seasoning the meat as you eat.
Although there are risks associated with eating raw meat, most Ethiopians that enjoy this dish claim to feel strong and euphoric afterward. Tere Siga is a dish worth trying if you are an adventure-seeking eater looking for a unique and unforgettable experience.
Kitfo (Beef Tartare)
Another raw meat dish, Kitfo, is a traditional food in Ethiopia made of minced beef. While Tere Siga is served completely cold and raw, Kitfo is usually slightly warmed in a pan with a bit of butter and the spice blend Mitmita.
It typically comes with alb, a dry cottage cheese, or gomen, a minced spinach. While the Kitfo is rather filling on its own, these additions make it even more tasty and nutritional.
Kitfo can be likened to beef tartare, a French specialty, but it stands on its own as an exceptional Ethiopian food with unique spices and flavors.
Asa Tibs (Fried Fish Chunks)
Over time, fish has become a more significant part of Ethiopian cuisine and is incorporated into periods of fasting in the culture. Asa Tibs is often made with Nile perch and marinated in berbere and lime juice before being fried in olive oil with garlic and ginger.
Usually served along with Injera and a dipping sauce, Asa Tibs is a nice change from the typical vegetable and meat dishes of traditional food in Ethiopia.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Ethiopian Food: Sidedishes and Snacks
Gomen Kitfo (Collard Greens)
Gomen Kitfo is a typical vegetarian side consumed as a part of Ethiopian cuisine. Made of sauteed collard greens seasoned with cumin and cardamom, Gomen has a lot of depth of flavor.
Finely chopped collard greens are sauteed in butter and spices to make an excellent accompaniment to other vegetable and meat-based Ethiopian dishes. Gomen Kitfo is often eaten with alb, or dried cottage cheese, and is always served alongside lots of Injera for eating.
Timatim (Tomato Salad)
Although most Ethiopian dishes are cooked, Timatim is a raw, cold tomato salad consumed alongside hot foods. Timatim’s cooling flavors are a welcome addition to the spicier Ethiopian food that is so common in the cuisine.
Timatim is made up of tomatoes, onions, and peppers, and sometimes torn pieces of fried Injera bread are added. The dressing for the salad is simple – oil, vinegar, lemon, and garlic, but it can include some berbere seasoning for a little extra kick.
Azifa (Lentil Salad)
Another delicious raw salad side dish or snack in Ethiopian cuisine is Azifa. Made of lentils, peppers, lime juice, and spices, Azifa is served with Injera or can be piled on top of lettuce for a meal.
Traditionally a mild dish, hot peppers can be added and additional berbere to take the flavors up a notch for heat-seeking eaters. The vegetarian status of this and many Ethiopian dishes makes it ideal for light eating during fasting in the culture.
Ti’hilo (Barley Balls Dipped in Sauce)
Ti’hilo is Ethiopia’s version of fondue, consisting of balls of moistened roasted barley dipped into a spicy meat sauce instead of cheese. Usually served as a snack during ceremonies, Ti’hilo is made by someone who sits next to your table and rolls the balls, placing them on a tray blanketed with Injera before being dipped.
You won’t easily find Ti’hilo, where you can find other Ethiopian foods. Ti’hilo is most commonly made in the Northern region of Ethiopia, known as Tigray.
Dabo Kolo (Spicy Fried Corn Bread Pieces)
Spicy and flavorful, Dabo Kolo is made with a simple dough that is dry roasted on the stove before being seasoned. Typically enjoyed as a snack in Ethiopian cuisine, street vendors serve Dabo Kolo.
Usually made from cornbread, Dabo Kolo can also be made of roasted barley or ground sunflower seeds. Dabo Kalo is also typically served during the Ethiopian New Year to celebrate the festivities.
Enjoying Delicious Ethiopian Food And Cuisine
Ethiopian food is amazing, and there are so many delicious dishes to choose from. Try some of these traditional favorites the next time you want to experience something new. Definitely don’t miss them out when visiting Ethiopia. From spicy stews to cooling salads, Ethiopian foods have a good variety that caters to various taste buds.