Ethiopian cuisine is a feast for the eyes as much as the palate. It typically arrives on a platter covered in warm flatbread and piled high with dishes like rich stewed meats and legumes flavored with aromatic Ethiopian spices. It’s a fragrant and comforting cuisine that doesn’t even require any utensils, so you don’t also have to worry about the delivery guy forgetting them.
That’s why the Daily Meal has named Ethiopian cuisine one of the world’s most underrated. While it has carved out a solid foothold in cities like Washington, D.C., and New York City with large East African communities, it’s still gaining traction elsewhere.
The eating rituals connected to Ethiopian cuisine can be a tad confusing to the uninitiated. During a typical meal, rip off a piece of flatbread and dip it into one of the various stews. Almost all are perfumed with Ethiopian spices like the famous berbere mix composed of long red dried chiles and fenugreek, cardamom, ginger, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and more.
While most Ethiopian dishes are meat-based, there’s a long tradition of abstaining from animal products on certain days of the week. You’ll find a multitude of vegetarian and vegan dishes that are as delicious as they are healthy. That makes Ethiopian cuisine the perfect choice to please both adventurous eaters and those with dietary restrictions. So if your interest is piqued, read on for some Ethiopian dishes to try.
Eating Ethiopian food the traditional way means eating with your hands. Injera is the name of the sour and spongy pancake-like bread that’s practically synonymous with the cuisine. When made with 100 percent teff flour, a tiny grain that has been grown in East Africa for millennia, the bread is naturally vegan and gluten-free. The injera is used as the utensil to scoop the various stews piled onto the dough.
Ethiopia’s rich and spicy stew is a must-try if you’re curious about the cuisine. Small cubes of beef are sautéed in butter or oil and then simmered with onions, garlic, chili, and rosemary. It’s always served on a bed of warm injera, of course.
3. Doro Wat
One of Ethiopia’s most famous dishes is a crimson-colored stew of chicken thighs slow cooked in a spicy mixture of berbere, more garlic and ginger, diced onions, and butter. Hard-boiled eggs are then added toward the end of the cooking process. The tender meat is always served with injera, and collard greens and salty cheese are usual accompaniments.
Think of this refreshing lentil salad as the Ethiopian answer to pico de gallo. Earthy green lentils are tossed with fresh chopped tomatoes, red onions, and green chiles to create a dish that’s naturally vegan and also gluten-free. Plus, it’s an ideal entry point into Ethiopian cuisine for those who are unadventurous eaters.
Tough collard greens become tender when slow cooked in spiced clarified butter and aromatic Ethiopian spices like cardamom, fenugreek, and nigella seeds. This vegetarian dish can accompany doro wat or even stand alone as the main event when served on a bed of pillowy injera.
Also sometimes called fit-fit, this breakfast dish is one of the few in Ethiopia that is eaten with a utensil, usually a spoon. Ingredients include shredded and lightly fried injera and onions cooked in a red sauce redolent of berbere spices and served with honey and eggs.
Maybe you’ve had Indian samosas, but now it’s time to try Ethiopia’s version of pastry skins wrapped around beef or a lentil filling scented with Ethiopian spices and then deep fried. They’re usually reserved for special occasions and are ideal for sharing.