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. »

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