By Mewded Yelowesen

Ethiopian cooking involves a wide selection of fresh herbs and spice mixtures that give the dishes flavorsome and rich tastes.

Ethiopian injeraCuisines are composed of various vegetable, grain and meat dishes, mostly accompanied by “injera”.

Injera is a flat and circle like pancake with a much bigger radius, made of fermented grain powder called ‘teff’.

Unlike normal bread, injera isn’t eaten alone. It comes with different dishes where the most common ones are sauces similar to stews or broths called ‘wot’.

Different kinds of lip smacking, finger licking wots can be prepared depending on the content and ingredients used.

Due to the fact that Ethiopia is mainly Orthodox, different fasting seasons including Wednesdays and Fridays are given by the church. And dishes are mainly classified into two; ‘yetsom’ (fasting) and ‘yefisik’ (non-fasting). The difference being that fasting dishes are fully deprived of any kind of meat as well as butter.

On the other hand, ‘yefisik’ dishes have meat and/or butter added to them. The traditional Ethiopian butter ‘kibbe’ is boiled with various spices to give it an alluring aroma and a delectable taste to the non fasting foods.

Another way to classify dishes, mainly stews (wots) are ‘aletcha’ and ‘keye’.

The difference? When a meal is ‘keye’ meaning red, it comes reddish and has a spicy taste due to the ‘berbere’ added in it.

Berbere is a combination of chilly pepper and other spices where as ‘mitmita’ is a stronger version of it made in the sameEthiopian spicy wots process except using a much hotter variety. Using different amounts, the spiciness of the wots is controlled to get that right flavor.

So when a meal is ‘aletcha’ it means that it doesn’t have berbere in it. Therefore has a rather light color and is usually a better choice for the weaker stomach.

Once the injera and dishes are ready, small pieces of it are used to pick up (some what roll) bite sizes of vegetable and meat dishes or stews available on the plate.

This is done using your hands. It is an ideal choice and way to get a bursting taste of every flavor.

Although nowadays people eat on separate plates, the traditional way is for the whole family or group to eat from one giant round plate (tray) creating a much more social environment for family or friends to interact.

Breakfasts to be served

‘Tchetchebsa,’ kita, one similar to pancake is made from different kinds of flours, wheat barley etc. It is cut into small pieces and mixed with a little bit of berbere and kibbe.

Particularly, this breakfast dish is eaten using tablespoons. Quite spicy and hearty this dish is a delicious one to start the day.

‘Firfir’  – This famous dish is made of scrambled injera put into a special sauce.  If the pieces of injera are put into an already made wot it changes its name to ‘fitfit’.

Although, it is traditionally a breakfast dish, it’s normal for people to have firfir or fitfit for lunch or dinner. The different fresh herbs, spices and butter used to make the special sauces and wots matter in making the exact mouthwatering taste for you.

‘Kinche’ is also a famous breakfast, is made of crushed grains of barely, wheat etc. It is boiled with water and then mixed with kibbe.

Its taste can be described as distinctive (an obvious good taste of course!!!) and makes quite a wholesome breakfast.

Lunches and dinners

The most common lunch dishes are other vegetable and meat dishes, or stews.

Ethiopian dishThe beginning of any stew whether it is a fasting or non-fasting day, keye or aletcha is a measured amount of chopped red onions.

Then depending on whether the day is a fasting day or not, the cook can chose to add kibbe or vegetable oil.

Afterwards the stew and its name depend on what we chose to add on it.

We can add lentils and get a ‘messer wot’ (lentil stew), or parts of chicken to make a ‘doro wot’ (Chicken stew) etc.

Shiro, is another lentil based wot widely eaten in Ethiopia. With the many different variety of flavors, lunch really is something to look forward to.

These stews are more often than not served for lunch and dinner, however, there are other more famous dishes.

‘Kitfo’ is common to the Gurage region. It consists of minced meat marinated in kibbe, mitmita and rubbed thoroughly with certain aromatic spices.

This mouth watering dish can be eaten with injera, but traditionally it comes with a similarly unique bread called ‘kotcho’ which, unlike injera, is made of false banana tree.

Kitfo is famous raw or rare but well done also doesn’t deprive the rich flavor from engulfing your taste buds.

‘Tibs’ is the combination of small pieces of meat fried with Kibbe, fresh chopped onions, fresh green peppers, tomatoes, certain herbs. And at times certain spices to give a deliciously enticing aroma and an unforgettable flavor.

However fully spicy tibbs is called ‘Awazie Tibbs’, it is different from the normal tibbs because it gets mixed with Berbere.

Ethiopian traditional drinks

‘Tela’ is similar to beer. It is made of barley and fermented with different grains, which is when it becomes alcoholic. Light in alcohol content, this drink has a grainy texture much like dark beer.

‘Tej’ is a combination of honey, water and herb call ‘gesho”.

Mewded YelowesenIt ferments for days and becomes alcoholic, the longer it is left, the stronger it gets.

The sugar from the honey makes this drink a rather tasty drink, whether mild or not.

Tej can also be served non alcoholic by just leaving out the Gesho and fermenting the honey and water for days, in this case, it’s called ‘Berze’.

Berze is sweet and usually made on festive occasions together with tej for children with a sweet tooth.

Mewded Yelewossen is a graduate of Marketing Management at Addis Ababa University and works as a guide and event coordinator in Addis Ababa.

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