Tara Fitzgerald

Ethiopian cuisine characteristically consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes. This is usually in the form of wat, a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour.

Main Features

Ethiopians eat exclusively with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. Utensils are optional. A typical dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, lamb, vegetables and various types of legumes, such as lentils. Gurage cuisine also makes use of the false banana plant, a type of ensete. The plant is pulverized and fermented to make a bread-like food called qocho or kocho, which is eaten with kitfo.

History

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting (tsom) periods, including Wednesdays, Fridays, and the entire Lenten season, so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are vegan. Pasta is frequently available throughout Ethiopia, including rural areas. Coffee is also a large part of Ethiopian culture and cuisine. After every meal, a coffee ceremony is enacted and espresso coffee is served.

In their adherence to strict fasting, Ethiopian cooks have developed a rich array of cooking oil sources—besides sesame and safflower—for use as a substitute for animal fats which is forbidden during fasting periods. Ethiopian cuisine also uses nug (also spelled noog, also known as "niger seed”).

Coffee

According to some sources, drinking of coffee (buna) is likely to have originated in Ethiopia. A key national beverage, it is an important part of local commerce.

The coffee ceremony is the traditional serving of coffee, usually after a big meal. It often involves the use of a jebena, a clay coffee pot in which the coffee is boiled. The preparer roasts the coffee beans right in front of guests, then walks around wafting the smoke throughout the room so participants may sample the scent of coffee. Then the preparer grinds the coffee beans in a traditional tool called a mokecha. The coffee is put into the jebena, boiled with water, and then served with small cups. Coffee is usually served with sugar, but is also served with salt in many parts of Ethiopia. In some parts of the country, niter kibbeh is added instead of sugar or salt.

Snacks, such as popcorn or toasted barley (or kollo), are often served with the coffee. In most homes, a dedicated coffee area is surrounded by fresh grass, with special furniture for the coffee maker. A complete ceremony has three rounds of coffee (Abol, Tona and Bereka) and is accompanied by the burning of frankincense.

Spirits

Tej is a potent honey wine. It is similar to mead, which is frequently served in bars (in particular, in a tej bet or "tej house"). Katikala and araqe are inexpensive local spirits that are very strong.

Tella is a home-brewed beer served in tella bet ("tella houses") which specialize in serving tella only. Tella is the most common beverage made and served in households during holidays.