Featured Video: Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, Ethiopian Chef discusses his love of Ethiopian Gourmet and his new line of convenient Ethiopian food.
Not only is the food extremely unique and extraordinarily flavorful, but the food culture that makes up Ethiopia is also something I found truly fascinating.
To begin with, Ethiopian food is eaten with friends and family.
Even the way Ethiopian food is served, on a communal platter, is designed for sharing food with each other. Food is not meant to be eaten alone in the culture of Ethiopia. In fact, during my visit, I can’t say I ate off a traditional plate my entire time.
One thing I learned, by seeing it happen numerous times watching local Ethiopians eat, is that feeding someone a bite of food is seen as a very respectable or loving thing to do. I often saw couples tearing off pieces of injera, scooping up the best bites of delicious stew, and proceeding to feed it to their loved ones, a practice I soon learned is called gursha.
Taking the time to feed your loved one, or a friend you really care about, that just has to be one of the greatest culinary traditions that still exists today, anywhere.
How to eat Ethiopian food?
The very first thing you need to know about Ethiopian food is something called injera. Injera is the staple and the most widely consumed starch / filler in all of Ethiopian cuisine; Most Ethiopians eat it injera, twice, or even three times a day. It’s the foundation of Ethiopian food.
What is injera? Injera is made from a grain known as teff, which is ground into flour, made into a batter, slightly fermented, and then fried on a heavy skillet into a giant circular pancake. The texture is soft and spongy and the flavor is lightly sour.
When you go to an Ethiopian restaurant in Ethiopia, you order the dish, or mix of dishes that you’d like, and injera automatically comes with it – you don’t need to order it separately.
Food in Ethiopia is served on a platter known as a gebeta, a large circular, usually metal platter. First, a circle of injera is placed on the gebeta, then the different stews, curries, or vegetables, that you’ve ordered are placed on top of the injera. From a single dish to a mix of different dishes, everything is piled onto the plate of injera.
Depending on the restaurant, you might also get some extra rolls of injera (like in the photo pictured above) to begin eating with first, or alternatively you can immediately begin tearing off pieces of injera from the edges of the large main piece.
To begin eating, first tear off a bite sized piece of injera with your right hand. Then use it to scoop up, and pick up a bite of your choice of whatever you have on your platter.
As you begin to eat your dishes, you can begin to eat the foundation piece of injera at the bottom, and I think it’s the best part of the meal, because it’s had time to soak up all the wonderful flavors of the dishes.
No utensils are needed, you eat with your hands, while sharing a single platter of food with everyone you eat with.
Eating meals in Ethiopia is absolutely an amazing experience!
Seasonings and Flavors
Ethiopian food is well flavored with a mixture of different spices and herbs, not extremely spicy in heat, but rather very well seasoned.
The staple injera, mentioned above, is sour, and it goes well with the legume spicy riddled stews.
Berbere – Berbere is the masala of Ethiopian cooking, it’s a mixture of different spices that forms the backbone of flavor for many dishes. Chili powder, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, and whole bunch of other spices are combined to make berbere. It’s essential in cooking Ethiopian food.
Mitmita – Mitmita is another similar blend of dry spices, but it’s often salty, and can either be used in cooking, or served as a side seasoning for meat. I especially like it with tibs (roasted meat).
Awaze – Awaze is the paste version of berbere. You actually get some berbere dry seasoning and mix it with oil (often olive oil), and a bit of Ethiopian wine or whiskey. It goes very well with meat dishes.
Niter kibbeh – Another highly important ingredient is niter kibbeh, or just Ethiopian butter. The clarified butter is brewed with some spices like fenugreek, cumin, and turmeric, so it has a lovely flavor to it. Basically if you’re not eating vegan Ethiopian food, your dishes will likely include some niter kibbeh in them.
These are a few of the main seasonings and spices that make Ethiopian food so incredibly flavorful.