Cuisine spotlight: The hidden gem of Ethiopian foods

Thana Elshaafi examines the oftentimes overlooked world of Ethiopian cuisine

Some of the most unique dishes can be found in Ethiopian cuisine. It is one of the lesser-known cuisines globally, however, if you are seeking a one-of-a-kind food experience, Ethiopian cuisine is a must try. This makes it an absolute delight to any culinary enthusiasts seeking a truly one-of-a-kind flavour experience. Ethiopian dishes are typically arranged in a colourful and artistic manner on injera bread, creating an appealing visual aspect to the meal. The use of vibrant spices and garnishes also makes the food visually enticing.

“The star of Ethiopian cuisine is the injera bread. A gluten-free sourdough flatbread that accompanies most dishes and is used as an eating utensil for the various dishes and stews”

The star of Ethiopian cuisine is the injera bread. A gluten-free sourdough flatbread that accompanies most dishes and is used as an eating utensil for the various dishes and stews. It has a slightly tangy flavour and a spongy texture that is unique to it due to the fermentation process that occurs, and this adds to the uniqueness of the dishes’ flavour profile. Ethiopian meals are often enjoyed in a communal setting, with several dishes served on the shared injera platter. This style of dining is common and fosters a sense of community and togetherness, making it a more enjoyable social experience. 

Ethiopian cuisine offers a wide variety of dishes. Some popular options include doro wat (a spicy chicken stew made with berbere spice blend, onions, garlic, and ginger, and often served with injera and sometimes hard-boiled eggs), tibs (grilled or sautéed pieces of meat, usually beef, lamb, or goat which are seasoned with spices, onions, and peppers), kitfo (minced raw beef seasoned with spices, especially mitmita and also often served with injera and various side dishes). There are also other dishes such as firfir (torn injera soaked in a spicy sauce, often with leftover stews. It’s a way to use leftover injera and stews, creating a unique and delicious meal) and dabo kolo (small, crunchy bread bites seasoned with spices and often served as a snack or with coffee). The cuisine is known for its rich and diverse flavour profile and the use of a wide range of spices and herbs, including berbere (a spice blend) and mitmita (a spicy seasoning), gives Ethiopian dishes a complex and satisfying taste. The use of spices and seasonings in Ethiopian cuisine is both extensive and unique. Spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and coriander are combined with native Ethiopian spices to create distinctive flavours. This is partly due to the influence of various cultures, including Indian, Middle Eastern, and Italian, on Ethiopian cuisine. These influences have contributed to its diverse and intriguing flavour profiles. 

In recent years, Ethiopian dishes have attracted both vegan and vegetarian audiences as many of its dishes, which focus on legumes, are both delicious and satisfying. The abundance of options for vegans and vegetarians in Ethiopian cuisine adds to its appeal, as other cuisines may have a limited range of vegan options. The plant-based dishes often include lentils, chickpeas and various vegetables with complex and diverse flavours. One vegan dish is Shiro, a type of thick stew made from a combination of legumes such as chickpeas and lentils that is simmered slowly and served with injera bread. There are other dishes such as vegetable wats which are vegetarian or vegan stews made with a variety of vegetables, lentils, or chickpeas. They are cooked with berbere and other spices to create rich and flavourful dishes. Moreover, the dishes are balanced due to a combination of vegetables and protein sources which are important for a satiating and delicious eating experience.

“Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee, and coffee ceremonies are an important cultural tradition”

Ethiopia is known as the birthplace of coffee, and coffee ceremonies are an important cultural tradition. The aromatic coffee beans are roasted, ground, and brewed in front of guests, creating a sensory experience that goes beyond the beverage itself. It’s a social activity that is enjoyed throughout the country. 

Only one restaurant in Ireland serves Ethiopian foods and is known as Gursha. Their menu includes a variety of traditional Ethiopian dishes including doro wat, tibs, yebeg alicha (seasoned pieces of lamb), gomen (collard greens or other leafy greens cooked with garlic, ginger, and spices, a popular side dish in Ethiopian cuisine) and misir wat (a combination of red lentils and caramelised onions). Their menu is predominantly vegan, and all the dishes are served on the traditional injera bread. It offers a distinctive dining experience for customers that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.

Ethiopian cuisine has a rich history and cultural significance. It’s deeply rooted in traditions that have been passed down through generations, making it an integral part of Ethiopian identity and heritage. The beauty of Ethiopian cuisine lies in its diverse flavours, unique dishes, communal dining traditions, and the way it reflects the country’s rich history and culture. Exploring Ethiopian cuisine can be an exciting culinary adventure for anyone looking to experience a truly distinct and flavourful dining experience.