Cook like a local: Ethiopia
From the country’s hot lowlands to its high plateaus you’ll find richly spiced stews, springy injera flatbreads and some of the world’s best coffee
Food is seen as feeding the soul, as well as the body, in many different cultures. In Ethiopia, however, it fulfils another, distinct, purpose – it conveys positive human energy. This is manifested in a powerful local saying, ‘enebla’. In Amharic, the country’s official language, enebla translates as ‘let us eat’ but it is also an invitation to share and show respect for one another. For instance, Ethiopia’s staple food, injera – a spongy, gluten-free flatbread that (literally) forms the base of most meals, with food placed directly on it instead of a plate – is used in a way that invites more than one pair of hands to a meal. Manipulating injera is sometimes dubbed ‘dancing with fingers’ (guests apply the flatbread over stews then dip and roll it to form a ‘goursha’ – an injera bite that combines various stews, or ‘wat’, from a platter).
Yet despite this commonality there is also great diversity. Ethiopia is large and the country’s cuisine is influenced by its distinct climates and geography. From the Danakil Depression of Afar (more than 120 metres below sea level), to the high plateaus that cover two-thirds of the country, Ethiopia’s different landscapes produce different ingredients. The terrain also generates knowledge that helps communities, whether that’s using goat skin to cool water in Afar or burning specific plants to extract edible salt in Gambela.
Ethiopia was never colonised but the legacy of trading with Asian and Middle Eastern countries, particularly Yemen, added spices to its dishes. Occupation by the Italians in the 1930s is another factor that has shaped the food. For the most part, however, Ethiopian cuisine has largely been left alone, its staple recipes handed down from one generation to the next.
The country is also, of course, one of the world’s largest coffee-producing countries (it is where the coffea arabica plant originates). Yet Ethiopia exports less than half of what it grows. Coffee is drunk copiously across the country and, in a sign of enebla, never alone. ‘Buna tetu’ – ‘come drink coffee’ – is a communal tradition. »