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Discover the splendor of one of Africa’s most unique and flavorsome cuisines with these Ethiopian foods, and prepare yourself for a whole lot of spice and cascades of flavor.
Ethiopia’s history and culture have played an integral role in shaping the country’s cuisine, meaning so many of these dishes are far more than mere food for the body, and a way of life for millions of Ethiopians.
Join us on an utterly fascinating journey through the foods of Ethiopia, as we discover 18 of the country’s most popular dishes as recommended by a local.
Before we begin, here are some common ingredients in Ethiopian cuisine you will see throughout this article:
- kibe – spice-infused butter, essential to Ethiopian cooking,
- berbere – blended powder of various spices,
- injera – fermented flatbread made from teff flour, and
- ayib – traditional cottage cheese.
1 – Chechebsa (Shredded Flatbread)
Chechebsa is a popular breakfast throughout Ethiopia. It is a dish of fried tortilla shredded into bite-sized pieces, cooked with kibe (Ethiopian butter) or oil, and berbere (spiced chili pepper powder) for flavoring.
Chechebsa is often served with a side of honey or plain yogurt, along with a cup of tea or a glass of milk. What a way to start the day!
2 – Kinche (Oatmeal)
While kinche is a popular breakfast dish, it can also be eaten with other dishes at lunch or dinner. This nutritious food is a simple dish of cracked wheat, boiled in water or milk, mixed with Ethiopian butter or oil, and, optionally, fried onions.
Kinche is very much seen as an Ethiopian take on oatmeal. People across the country enjoy this popular breakfast food with a glass of milk or tea.
It can be consumed as a non-fasting dish when it is prepared with oil and fried onions, but not butter.
3 – Genfo (Porridge)
Genfo is a rich and thick hot porridge made from dry roasted barley flour. It is usually served for breakfast with a blend of berbere, spices, and kibe, and often consumed with a hot drink, such as tea or Ethiopian coffee.
In Ethiopia, it is tradition for new moms to eat genfo after they have given birth. In fact, it is very common for friends, family, and relatives of the new mom to gather and eat genfo with her, together.
The dish is believed to help new moms gain back strength and heal quickly. In Ethiopia, expecting moms and their family and friends also take part in a genfo tasting ceremony a few months before the expecting mom’s delivery date.
4 – Fir-Fir (Sautéed Injera)
Fir-fir is a breakfast dish of shredded injera (a fermented flatbread made from teff flour), onion, berbere, garlic, oil or Ethiopian butter, and chili pepper.
A diverse food, many different variations of fir-fir can be made. Dirkosh fir-fir uses dried injera, while kuanta fir-fir adds spiced beef to the mixture. You can also enjoy a milder fir-fir by substituting some of the spices with turmeric or tomato sauce.
The dish only takes a few minutes to prepare, and it is best enjoyed with tea or Ethiopian coffee for a hearty breakfast with plenty of kick.
5 – Enkulal Firfir (Scrambled Egg)
Enkual fir-fir is a wholesome dish of eggs cooked in kibe or oil, with green and red peppers, chili, tomatoes, and onions. In addition, this dish is served with a delicious slice of bread or injera, and it is a popular choice at breakfast for toddlers and children.
6 – Doro Wat (Chicken Stew)
Doro wat is one of the most delicious traditional dishes of Ethiopia, prepared mainly for holidays and special occasions. In Ethiopia, if you are hosting guests, serving doro wat is a way to show respect.
Doro wat is a stew consisting of stewed onions, berbere, kibe, all parts of a chicken, and cardamom. Once prepared, boiled eggs are commonly added to the broth.
It is served with injera, which is used to scoop up the stew, like a spoon. Irgo (plain yoghurt) and ayib (dry cottage cheese) are also common side dishes to doro wat.
The stew’s lengthy preparation time and cultural significance mean it is almost always exclusively prepared for special occasions and events. Because of this, you will often eat this stew with tej and tela, traditional homemade alcoholic drinks, or many different Ethiopian wines and beers.
7 – Alecha Wot (Mild Beef Stew)
Alecha wat is commonly consumed during holidays and on non-fasting days. The absence of berbere in this dish makes it ideal for people who prefer their stews milder, without too much spice.
The stew consists of chopped meat cooked with a generous amount of onion, turmeric, garlic, chopped potato (optional), and kibe. Sometimes, when the stew is ready to be served, boiled eggs are added to the broth.
Popular among both adults and children, alecha wat, as with so many Ethiopian dishes, is made complete with a side of delicious and fresh injera.
8 – Key Wat (Spicy Beef Stew)
Key wat is a flavorsome and spicy stew, consisting of cubed meat, berbere, onions, garlic, kibe, tomato puree, and sometimes boiled eggs. It is served with injera, ayib, and plain yogurt, and eaten on non-fasting days.
9 – Tibs (Lightly Fried Meat Slices)
Tibs are one of Ethiopia’s most popular foods. This simple combination of sliced meat cooked with butter, garlic, chile, and onion is a staple for many holidays, special occasions, and non-fasting days.
Beef or sheep meat is most commonly used in tibs. The meat is chopped into pieces and fried with oil or butter. After it is cooked, fresh rosemary leaves are added to enhance the flavor.
There are many different variations of this dish. One of the most popular is derek tibs, in which the meat is cooked thoroughly until crunchy, and served in a hot clay pot over hot coals.
Merek tibs is another popular dish, in which the meat is slowly cooked in a sauce of kibe, onions, and fresh tomatoes, and served with injera and awaze, a dipping sauce of berbere mixed with various alcoholic drinks.
10 – Kitfo (Beef Tartare)
Kitfo is a traditional dish of the Gurage people of Ethiopia. It is common to prepare kitfo for holidays and special events, including the occurrence of Meskel, the discovery of the true Cross.
Kitfo is made from a mixture of minced meat, kibe, mitmita (cayenne powder), cardamom, and salt, and is served in a unique clay pan called a taba. Kitfo can be slightly cooked, fully cooked, or completely raw, depending on preference.
The dish is commonly enjoyed with either injera or a thick bread called kocho. Kocho is made from the enset plant and can be served either soft or toasted.
Dry cottage cheese, spicy cheeses, and collard greens tartare are all sides commonly served with kifto, and all can be eaten either by hand, or with a spoon. Following the meal, it is common to hold an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
11 – Gored Gored (Raw Meat Cubes)
Gored gored is a simple meat dish, consisting of raw beef cut into cubes and marinated in melted kibe and berbere. Naturally, the quality of the meat is essential for making a flavorsome gored gored, hence Ethiopians will do their best to seek out the freshest cuts of beef to make this dish with.
Gored gored is eaten with injera, awaze (chili sauce), and mitmita (a powdered seasoning mix). It is a popular dish at festivals and weddings.
12 – Gomen be Sega (Meat with Collard Green)
Gomen be sega is a dish of collard greens and meat, cooked with onions, garlic, butter or oil, and raw green peppers if you want a particularly spicy gomen de sega. It can also be made into a stew by simply adding water.
It is common to follow this dish with a cup of hot Ethiopian coffee to help wash it all down.
13 – Gomen Kitfo (Collard Green Tartare)
As with kitfo (see food #10), gomen kitfo is a typical dish of the Gurage people. It is prepared for holidays and special occasions, including Meskel, the discovery of the True Cross.
Gomen kitfo is prepared by first boiling collard greens (gomen), drying them, and then mincing the greens thoroughly with butter, chili, and spices.
Once the collard greens, or gomen, are prepared, they are served with kitfo (beef tartare, see dish #10) and spiced cottage cheese. The dish can be eaten with either injera or kocho (bread from the Enset plant).
14 – Beyainatu (Vegetarian Dish)
Beyaiynetu is the most colorful vegetarian dish, popular throughout the country. The dish is aptly named, as “beyaiynetu” means “a bit of every type”.
The dish is mainly prepared throughout the fasting seasons and fasting days (Wednesday and Friday) of the Ethiopian Orthodox. In essence, it is a dish that spans a broad range of ingredients and can be prepared in many different ways, giving you lots of vegetables and flavors to try.
This colorful dish commonly includes many vegetables, including potatoes, spinach, cabbage, green beans, and carrots, seasoned with ginger and garlic.
However, a wide range of combinations and other dishes can be prepared as part of beyainatu. These include key sire, a beet, potato, carrot stew, and timatim salata, an Ethiopian salad of diced tomatoes, onions, and chilies, seasoned with salt, lemon juice, and oil.
Meser wat (lentil stew), azifa (lentil salad), shiro wat (legume stew), ater wat (split peas stew), suf fitfit (safflower dipping sauce with crumbled injera), and telba (creamy dip made from toasted and mashed ground flax seeds) are all also beloved inclusions for beyainatu.
The entire dish is served on a giant injera, and it is very common to eat beyayinetu with friends or family all from the same plate. Most restaurants serve beyayinetu on Wednesday and Friday, the fasting days.
15 – Shiro (Legume Stew)
Shiro wat, or just shiro, is a stew consisting of chickpea or broad bean flour mixed with berbere, onions, garlic, water, and kibe or vegetable oil. If ordered in restaurants, it is served in a hot clay pot.
Many different variations of shiro exist. These include tegabino, a type of shiro made from a heavily spiced legume, chickpea, field pea, or fava bean, and bozena shiro, which includes meat.
16 – Messer Wat (Lentil Stew)
Lentil stew, a popular food on fasting days, is a dish of lentils, sautéed onions, berbere, oil, tomato paste, and spices, cooked in water until the lentils have broken apart and the stew has a thick and lusciously smooth consistency.
Kibe can be added for a little spice, and the stew is often enjoyed with many sides, including injera, tikil gomen (cabbage), fosoliya (green beans with carrots), ayib, and/or keysir (beet, potato, and carrot stew).
17 – Azifa (Pardina Lentil)
Azifa is a dish of cooked lentils with fresh jalapenos, red onion, fresh parsley, tomatoes, fresh lemon juice, and chili pepper.
The ingredients help enhance the taste of the lentils, adding a healthy dose of zest, sharpness, and spice to the lentil salad. Some Ethiopians will even top the dish with even more chili pepper.
Primarily a fasting dish, azifa, as with nearly all Ethiopian foods, is enjoyed with a side of injera.
18 – Tekel Gomen (Cabbage Dish)
Tekel gomen is a dish of fresh cabbage cooked with garlic, oil, and onion. Commonly topped with fresh peppers, this meal is often served as a side dish.
When carrots and potatoes are added, the dish becomes tikel gomen. Both of these dishes are enjoyed with injera or bread, and are part of the several dishes that can be used in the making of beyainatu (see dish #14).
Tekel gomen is refreshing, incredibly flavorful, easy to make, and an excellent choice for vegetarians.
Ethiopian Food Summary
From the unique ingredients, such as the spice mix berbere, to the age-old techniques used to make many of these traditional dishes, Ethiopian food will never fail to pique the curiosity of even the most casual of foodie travelers.
There is simply so much flavor, texture, and technique to unpack when it comes to Ethiopian cooking, and each dish gives you a captivating insight into the culture and history of this beautiful country.
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Contributor: Tizitaye Mekonnen is an Ethiopian freelance writer, editor, and translator. She earned her MBA from Jimma University and BA in Foreign Language and Literature from Awassa University and is an experienced and versatile professional writer, with over a decade of experience writing for various publications.
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