Ethiopian food is delicious! Because Ethiopia is home to several sizeable ethnic groups, there are a lot of diverse influences in its overall food.
For example, Oromo, Amhara, and Somali are three largest ethnic groups, each having its own province and unique history.
Of course, like most countries, Ethiopia is also influenced by its neighbors and the world at large.
For instance, Somali people are considered to be part of Arab culture and Somali people’s largest country, Somalia, is an official country in the Arab League.
As a result, Ethiopian food may have some items that are familiar to you from your own culture or global cuisine awareness.
However, Ethiopian ethnic groups have a lot of cool and unique foods you probably haven’t tried.
In that case, you will love this article.
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If you were to look up Ethiopian food in your local directory, you will probably find regional restaurants that will use the name “Ethiopian” rather than the specific type of group it belongs to.
“This is most typical in western countries,” says Beimnet, a chef from Ethiopia. “It is more important to point out that the food has something to do with Ethiopia rather than a particular ethnic group name,” she adds.
Beimnet argues that there is also a “westernized” version of Ethiopian food, saying that she finds a lot of Ethiopian travelers dissatisfied with some of the restaurants they encounter in foreign countries.
“I would assume the same is true for Chinese or Indian travelers,” says Beimnet. “People in Europe or North America tend to be afraid of spicy foods, so Ethiopian restaurants will try their best to make it as ‘mild’ as possible,” she adds.
Because sometimes people who are not even chefs will start a restaurant and will “become” chefs, Beimnet says it is just a business and yet the customer doesn’t know the difference.
“So, you’re missing the passion someone who loves food will bring to a cuisine,” she says.
In other words, it might be the case you will try Ethiopian food at your local restaurant and the flavors may not be up to bar with what Ethiopians expect.
Meanwhile, Beimnet recommends a way to combat this.
“Read the reviews and look for Ethiopians,” she says. “If Ethiopians are giving it a good review then it means it is an authentic place.”
Therefore, use the following ethnic specific dishes to look for specific items on menus to determine what you’re ordering and from where.
There are common items that all Ethiopians share.
For example, a spice mix similar to curry called berbere.
What kind of spices does berbere mix include?
“Because it is very local, there are some ingredients that a non-Ethiopian may be unfamiliar with,” says Beimnet.
For instance, Beimnet notes that berbere mix includes items like trachyspermum roxburghianum or radhuni.
It is a spice that is native to Asia.
Meanwhile, most ethnic groups also share a common use of flatbread called injera (pictured).
So, the main base of injera is Williams lovegrass flour, which is known locally as “teff.”
In Somali, injera is called “lahoh,” and in Oromo language, it is known as “bidenaa.”
Other items include honey wine called dhaadhi (Oromo), t’ej (Amharic), and myes (Tigrinya).
In other words, these are items that you can find in all of the cuisines.
Oromo is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, accounting for around 35% of the country.
Because of their extensive homeland of Oromia, which is now a province within Ethiopia, they are a diverse group within their own context.
For example, the largest religions are Islam, Christianity, and Waaqeffanna.
“Waaqeffanna, which around 15% of Oromos follow, is the ancestral religion of the Oromo people,” explains Beimnet.
So, the food is very diverse because of the religious diversity, says Beimnet.
Beimnet says top foods to try from Oromia include baduu, marqaa, and chororsa.
Because Chororsa is pictured here, we will skip it.
Baduu and Spices
So, let’s choose baduu, which is widely known as “aybe” and other names and is a very important dish for the Oromo people.
“Oromo, like all Ethiopians, love spicy food,” says Beimnet, adding that this a dish meant to offset the hot spices in the food.
Although it looks very similar to the Greek feta cheese, baduu doesn’t have that strong flavor.
“In fact, most people will only eat baduu as part of a larger meal,” says Beimnet.
In other words, baduu is a side dish!
Because marqaa is probably the national Oromo dish, we thought we would give you a recipe to try at home.
So, to make this dish you will need barley, butter, salt, and water.
Therefore, get 2 cups of water, and add 2 cup of barley and a pinch of salt once you bring the water to boil.
“Because it requires constant mixing, you will still need more water on hand,” says Beimnet.
Meanwhile, you’re going to keep mixing it until the flower turns to almost a ball.
It should take about 20 minutes.
Then you serve the marqaa with the butter sitting in a hole in the middle.
Amhara are the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
So, the Amhara are given their name by a Medieval region of the same name.
Meanwhile, the Amhara people rose to become the ruling class of the country in most of the 19th and 20th centuries.
They are predominantly Orthodox Christian.
As a result, their cuisine is highly influenced by that, because they cannot eat meat for nearly 200 days of the year.
“It is the main reason we have a lot of vegetarian dishes,” says Beimnet, who is from this ethnic group.
However, Amhara people love their meats too!
So, Beimnet recommends dishes such as tere siga, doro wat, and beyaynetu — with only last being vegetarian!
Pictured, we are not going to deal with beyaynetu, which is a combination of veggie dishes and injera.
So, we will explore tere siga and will do share a recipe of doro wat.
Tere Siga Is Raw
Although Amhara people don’t eat pork, they do eat other meat!
One popular dish is terea siga, which literally means “raw meat” in Amharic.
So, as the name suggests, this meat dish is served raw!
“Generally, you will eat beef, but I know some people who also eat other meats raw, especially game maet,” says Beimnet.
Meanwhile, you don’t just sit there and eat raw meat, but you also use injera and condiments.
For instance, you dip the meat in mit’mit’a, which is a powdered mix of spices, as well as senafich awazi, which is a combination of mustard and chili sauce.
“It doesn’t taste raw anymore,” says Beimnet, who discourages non-Ethiopians from eating this. “I think we Ethiopians develop enzymes to fight bacteria or disease associated with eating raw meat,” she adds.
Because eating raw meat is associated with salmonella and tapeworms, it is better to avoid raw meat in places where meat industry is not closely regulated like Ethiopia, says Beimnet.
However, this is a delicious dish!
So, try at your own risk.
Doro Wat Recipe
So, doro wat combines two words: “doro” (chicken) and “wat” (stew). As a result, this is a dish with a heavy stew.
Meanwhile, to make enough for two, you will need three separate systems. For example, you will need 4 pieces of chicken drumsticks, cooked in 4 cups of water.
Afterwards, you will need to boil 2 eggs.
Then, finally, you will make stew. So, to make the stew, you need 1 cup of broth (from the drumsticks), half an onion, 4 tablespoons of berbere mix, 2 tablespoons of butter, and salt to taste.
Aftewards, you caramelize the onions in the butter and add the berbere mix, and the broth.
So, let that come to simmer.
Then add the chicken and eggs and cover for 5 minutes.
Serve the stew over injera.
Somali are the third largest ethnic group in Ethiopia.
Because they are predominantly Muslim, their cuisine is similar to cuisines in the Arab World.
For example, some Somali dishes bring together meat, grains, and fruits!
“Iskukaris is a famous Somali rice dish and it is known in Arab countries as ‘Somali pilaf’ or bilaf al summal,” says Beimnet. “It will have goat meat and the rice will be top with raisins and banana. They are the only ethnic group in Ethiopia who do such things and I love it.”
So, according to Beimnet, her favorite Somali foods include iskukaris (pictured), sambus, and shaah.
Because we are not going into the pictured dish, let us talk about the other two.
So, sambus is a triangle-shaped snack known to the rest of the world as “samosa.”
It is a pretty filling snack.
“Just two pieces and you will feel full,” says Beimnet.
The snack is made by putting fillings into a pasty wrap and then frying it.
It originated in Persia and is wildly popular in the Middle East and South Asia.
Meanwhile, Beimnet says the Somali version uses thin pasty wraps and will typically have meat fillings, especially beef, although a popular kind also uses lentils.
“It is very popular all the time, but more special during Ramadan,” says Beimnet, referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting.
If the filling is heavy, then it can be oily.
So, choose a lentil one, Beimnet encourages non-Ethiopians.
So, shaah is Somali tea.
Beimnet says the Somali make a very aromatic tea.
“For instance, they use black tea and milk with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and ginger,” says Beimnet.
Meanwhile, to make your own for two, get 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of water. After that, throw in 1 tablespoon of black tea, a pinch of each of the spices mentioned, and 2 tablespoons of sugar.
Bring everything to boil.
Let it sit for 1 minute.
Of course, there are other ethnic groups outside of these three large ones.
And, of course, they contribute too!
For example, kitfo (pictured), which is a very popular steak tartar-like dish, originated with the Gurage people.
Meanwhile, tihlo, a popular barley balls enjoyed, is from the Tigray ethnic group.
Likewise, Beimnet says that kocho, a very popular bread, originated with the Sidama people.
“They are the ones who farm the Enset grain that we use to make the dish,” she says.
In other words, all Ethiopians bring something to the table.
For Ethiopian dinner, I’d recommend starting with classic dishes that will give you a taste of the country’s culinary delights.
Your Ethiopian dinner should start with a snack. Choose something popular like “dabo kolo,” which is a small fried pastry.
Over the years, I’ve heard people liken it to pretzels.
Now, onto the main course. First, let’s talk about “injera.” This sourdough flatbread serves as the base for many Ethiopian dishes.
With its slightly tangy flavor and spongy texture, injera makes it perfect for scooping up various stews and sauces.
One popular dish is called “doro wat,” which is a spicy chicken stew made in a flavorful blend of spices, onions, garlic, and berbere, a traditional Ethiopian spice mix.
If you don’t eat meat, try vegetarian dishes like “misir wat.” This is a spicy red lentil stew cooked with onions, garlic, ginger, and berbere spice, resulting in a hearty and satisfying dish.
And, of course, don’t forget to try some traditional Ethiopian sides. “shiro,” a thick stew made from ground chickpeas or lentils, is a popular choice.
Likewise, if you drink, make sure to enjoy “tej,” a popular Ethiopian honey wine.
Finally, to end your Ethiopian dinner on a sweet note, you can try a traditional dessert called “atayef.”
This is a sweet, pancake-like pastry filled with nuts and soaked in a sweet syrup. That should make your Ethiopian dinner a successful adventure!
Because Ethiopia is home to some 80 ethnic groups, Ethiopian food is very diverse.
For example, the largest ethnic groups such as the Oromo, Amhara, and Somali all have unique items they bring to the Ethiopian table.
Likewise, there other smaller groups like the Tigray, the Gurage, and Sidama, who also contribute.
In other words, this diverse country has given us a lot of food to try.
“Don’t let anyone tell you Ethiopian food is one thing,” says Beimnet. “Do your research and taste the diversity.”
Yes, we shall!
Nina Walker is a food writer for Caravanzers.
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