Nestled between the African countries of Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan and Eritrea lives Ethiopia, a bright country full of heritage and unique dishes. As Ethiopian migrants have expanded westward, so has their cuisine, bringing traditional flavors right to foreigners’ backyards. Come settle in with your favorite cup of Ethiopian Spice tea and learn more as Break Thru Kitchen takes a deep dive into Ethiopian cuisine.
Ethiopian Eating Habits
You will not be needing a fork or a spoon for these meals! Ethiopian food is traditionally served to be eaten by hand. Before diving in though, there is a specific practice to follow at the beginning of every meal.
First, you should wash your hands before arriving at the table. Ethiopians typically use a basin filled with water to keep their hands clean. Next, food is shared from a Gebeta, a large platter used by all dinner guests. All food is to be eaten with your right hand and never the left. In Ethiopian culture, the left hand is seen as being “unclean” and should never be used when eating.
Another very common way to eat Ethiopian cuisine is with Injera bread. Similar to a tortilla, this spongy pancake is used to soak up the remains of food and is typically used as a scoop. Almost every meal in Ethiopia is served with this warm and comforting bread.
Along with unique ways of eating, Ethiopian food is also known for having bright and bold flavors. Many meals are spiced heavily, giving off a delicious aroma and a powerful taste. One of the most common flavors found in Ethiopian dishes is the Berbere Spice.
This spice is actually a blend of almost a dozen spices and has notes of spicy, sweet and citrus flavors. Some spices in this blend include red chili peppers, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, cumin and more. This complex spice mix is typically sautéed with oil and onions or sprinkled on fish.
An additional spice blend typically found in Ethiopian food is Mitmita. This spice blend is similar to that of Berbere Spice with savory and warm notes and contains Thai Bird chilies, cardamom and cloves. This blend is normally used to season vegetables.
Some other popular spices cooked into Ethiopian dishes include nutmeg, cinnamon, black peppercorns and ginger. Citrus elements are also embedded in the heart of many traditional dishes.
Now, I bet you’re wondering what dishes use these complex spice pairings. Well, one staple in Ethiopian cuisine that utilizes these spices are warm stews. These stews are typically made from beef or lamb and are classed as being the national dish of Ethiopia.
The most common stew in Ethiopia is Sega Wat. This spicy beef stew is one of many dishes that have made their way across the Atlantic Ocean, commonly being seen at Ethiopian-inspired western restaurants. The stew is served with injera bread and is commonly seasoned with Berbere Spice. Garlic and ginger is also added to the dish, creating a savory yet warm flavor.
Although this dish is served with cooked beef, Ethiopians also eat raw beef in many traditional dishes.
Vegetable curry is another big star player found in Ethiopia lunches and dinners. Typically called “Berbere Curry”, vegetable curry is a warm sauce that is mixed with vegetables including sweet potatoes, lentils and peas to create a symphony of complex and comforting flavors. This dish is also served with injera, adding a springy and spongy element to the dish.
Thanks for taking a trip to Ethiopia with us! What part of the world should we taste next? Comment and let us know!