The Taste­ful Com­plex­ity of Ethiopian Food

Distinguished Magazine - - CONTENTS - SAMRA TABAN

Ethiopia, in East-Africa serves a lot of meat in its cui­sine. The coun­try also has an abun­dant sup­ply of grains, mil­lets and wheat.

Ethiopian cui­sine bor­ders on be­ing a mys­te­ri­ous and ex­otic palate that may not be very fa­mil­iar with In­di­ans. To­day, thanks to chefs from all over the world, global cuisines are now avail­able al­most ev­ery­where, bring­ing di­ver­sity to our meals. Ital­ian, Mex­i­can, Mid­dle-East­ern, Greek or Ja­panese, you name it and there is a restau­rant that serves authen­tic or a fu­sion of these cuisines. Ethiopian cui­sine en­tered the game rather late.

Ethiopia, an East-African coun­try serves a lot of meat in their cui­sine. Nev­er­the­less, the ver­sa­til­ity also of­fers enough dishes for veg­e­tar­i­ans, lac­tose-intolerant peo­ple and even ve­g­ans. The coun­try is abun­dant in grains, mil­lets and wheat. ‘Teff’, a pop­u­lar type of grain is a prom­i­nent part of the Ethiopian cui­sine.

The coun­try is of­ten as­so­ci­ated with poverty and famine; how­ever their dishes are hearty and brim­ming with de­lec­ta­ble fla­vors. Due to the lack of ex­po­sure to the va­ri­eties in African cuisines, food from the con­ti­nent are all clubbed to­gether into one en­tity. The truth is, there is a sur­pris­ing di­ver­sity in African food sta­ples that is over­shad­owed by the la­bel of be­ing a poor con­ti­nent.

Sim­i­lar to the Bohri cul­ture that ex­ists in In­dia, Ethiopi­ans also be­lieve in the con­cept of com­mu­nal eat­ing. They have a large plat­ter on which they lay out a stretchy, sour pan­cake called the ‘in­jera’, which is im­mensely pop­u­lar. In­jera is nor­mally made out of teff. How­ever, there are sev­eral vari­ants, which also in­clude wheat. The peo­ple sit around the same plat­ter and feed each other food, which is how they show love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for one an­other.

The Ethiopian cui­sine is dom­i­nant in de­li­cious stews that are placed on the in­jera. The stews fur­ther in­fuse the in­jera and are con­sid­ered the best part of the plat­ter. The in­jera is torn, scooped with the stew, rolled and eaten. The Ethiopian cui­sine does not serve any pork due to the re­li­gious sen­ti­ments of the lo­cal peo­ple. There are Jews, Mus­lims and Ortho­dox Chris­tians. The cof­fee and al­co­hol served here is also pre­pared as per the be­liefs.


There are nu­mer­ous dishes made in var­i­ous bases. They make use of lentils, meat, veg­eta­bles, mush­rooms and more. There is al­ways a dish to match your taste buds. The spice in­ten­sity ranges from mod­er­ate to very spicy. The dishes are al­ways well sea­soned. ‘Wot’ is a sta­ple of the Ethiopian kitchen. It is a spicy stew mostly made out of meat. The ‘berbere’ sauce is the most com­mon base used in all dishes. It is a spicy paste made out of ex­otic spices and select herbs. The cayenne pep­per in the sauce gives it a very en­joy­able flavour. There are vari­ants of ‘wot’. ‘Alecha’ is a mild stew that re­places the ‘berbere’ sauce with green ginger. ‘Doro’ means chicken which is very com­monly used in stews. If you have a taste for steaks, ‘kitfo’ is your best bet. Raw beef is minced and mixed with a spicier ver­sion of ‘berbere’ called ‘mit­mita’. If the beef is diced in­stead of be­ing minced, the steak is called ‘gored gored’. Kitfo is of­ten made on spe­cial oc­ca­sions be­cause raw meat is quite ex­pen­sive and is con­sumed reg­u­larly only by wealthy house­holds. Since raw meat could be dif­fi­cult to eat for many, the Ethiopi­ans have ‘leb leb’, which is a mildly cooked ver­sion. For break­fast, the Ethiopi­ans stick to eggs in var­i­ous forms.

Honey be­ing one of the ba­sic and eas­ily avail­able sweet­en­ers of the coun­try, is used to make pas­tries. They are dense and ap­proved for those fast­ing (a term used when a per­son re­frains from non-veg­e­tar­ian food). The best way to end a meal is with Ethiopian cof­fee. Ethiopia is the place of ori­gin for the beloved bev­er­age. You get var­i­ous types like mac­chi­atos and espres­sos called ‘jebena’. Some types are sea­soned with but­ter and salt that is an ab­so­lute del­i­cacy. Al­ter­na­tively, you can try ‘tej’, honey wine sea­soned with a touch of or­ange blos­som. Ethiopian cui­sine is a de­light and an ex­pe­ri­ence al­to­gether. The lo­cal eater­ies and stalls teach you a lot about din­ing with friends and fam­ily through the de­light­ful flavours on the plat­ter.

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