A Guide to Eating Traditional Ethiopian Food


Living in Tanzania, I have the opportunity to be exposed to many different kinds of ethnic food. There are so many different ingredients, flavors, and eating styles that trying food from different countries never gets boring.

Just recently I tried Ethiopian food for the very first time, and at first was totally caught off guard at the way it’s served. Of course it didn’t take long for me to jump right in after I realized how delicious it is, and how much fun it is to eat with a group of friends.

The traditional meal is inherently social, which adds to the fun of eating with your hands (Ethiopians strictly eat with only their right hands.) The menu will typically give several options of wat, or a thick stew, somewhat like a curry dish. The options can contain beef, mutton, chicken, shrimp, fish, vegetables, lentils, and beans. All dishes are infused with tasty Ethiopian spices, and can be very spicy. Make sure your server understands how spicy or not spicy you want your meal.

All of these dishes are served in small bowls placed on top of a large, porous, sourdough flatbread called injera, which is made out of fermented teff flour. It’s pretty big, spanning 20 inches in diameter, and served in a large, round, shallow dish. When the server brings it out, he/she then dumps the bowls of all the different kinds of wat directly on the injera. Diners then break off pieces of the injera with their hands to scoop up the delicious contents. Extra rolls of injera are given to the table to make sure you sop up all the edible goodness.

To wash it all down, try out some tej, which is honey wine similar to mead. It can be incredibly sweet, as well as incredibly potent. Tella is a home brewed beer that you can also try. But the most culturally significant Ethiopian drink is coffee. A coffee ceremony is traditionally conducted after big meals. Beans are roasted right in front of you, and the server walks around the table to make sure everyone gets a good whiff. Then it is ground, boiled with water, and served, sometimes with sugar. In more elaborate ceremonies, several different kinds of coffee is served, each varying in taste and strength.

Now, the next time you find yourself at an Ethiopian restaurant, or better yet in Ethiopia, you’ll have a good idea about what’s in store for you. My advice is to bring a small group of friends and order several wat that contain a wide variety of ingredients. Then, roll up your sleeves and dig in!

Have you tried Ethiopian food? Where and what was your pick?


About Author

My name is Mandi and I have a gypsy soul. I quickly realized the normal, sedentary life just wasn't for me, so I've made it my life's ambition to never stop exploring. This decision has led me to study, volunteer, intern, work, backpack and travel all over the world, including Rome, London, Costa Rica, India, Southeast Asia, Montana, and San Diego. Now I'm living and always writing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Keep track of where I go next via thislimitlessworld.com and @1LimitlessWorld.

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