Created on: January 21, 2013
Ethiopia is a country that has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent decades. Civil war, drought, famine and all the associated hardships they bring have painted a picture of a country virtually laid to waste and wholly dependent upon the generosity of the international community to survive. This understandably but inappropriately detracts from much of the long standing culture of the country, which is rich, ancient and diverse.
Background to traditional Ethiopian food
African cuisine is no different to that of other cultures around the world in that it is traditionally comprised of ingredients that are found growing or can otherwise be sourced in the immediate geographical area. This means that Ethiopian food specifically consists not only of local meats, vegetables and grains, but a wide and rich array of tasty spices, which impart both heat and flavor to the dishes. Religion frequently dictates which dishes are eaten when in Ethiopia and food is traditionally eaten with the right hand, rather than with utensils such as forks or spoons.
The large Ethiopian flatbread known as injera is not just an Ethiopian food staple, it is also pulled apart and used in place of eating utensils to scoop up other foods. Meat, vegetable and fish dishes will often be served on top of the injera. Although traditionally made with teff flour, this flour is expensive or impractical for many Ethiopians, so other grain flours are used as a substitute. The flour is mixed with water and left for up to several days to ferment before it is flattened and cooked on an iron plate over an open fire.
Ethiopian meat stews
The rich meat stews served in Ethiopian cuisine come under the broad heading of the dish known as wat. The base of the stew is typically onion, which is sauteed with a selection of spices before the meat is added. Popular meats in Ethiopian cuisine include lamb or goat, beef or chicken. Fish is also popular.
Vegetarian and vegan Ethiopian food
It is not just the dietary preferences of an individual which will cause meat to be omitted from wat. There are certain religious occasions where the eating of meat and dairy products is forbidden. Such occasions will see wat prepared with a selection of lentils or beans, along with vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and zucchini, instead of what may be the more usual meats or fish.
Ethiopian coffee ceremony
Coffee rounds off meals around the world, but in Ethiopia, the drinking of coffee is usually ceremonial. Taking place up to three times a day, the ceremony includes the roasting and grinding of the beans, the brewing of the coffee and the drinking of the coffee, each part of which holds its own special significance. This is a huge part of Ethiopian culture — the country where coffee drinking is widely believed to have originated — and an invitation to experience such a ceremony should be accepted as a great honor.
Ethiopian restaurants are now to be found in many large cities. While restaurants will vary in how traditional and authentic they are, most will afford some idea of this unique African food culture. If there is one within reasonable traveling distance of your home, the chances are it will allow you the chance to experience a whole new world of food appreciation and pleasure.
Learn more about this author, Gordon Hamilton.
Click here to send this author comments or questions.
Below are the top articles rated and ranked by Helium members on:
Ethiopian cuisine for beginners
Cast your vote!
Click for your side.