Eating Ethiopian

Ethiopian food is so delicious that it deserves its own post.

For anyone that hasn’t had it, a traditional Ethiopian meal usually consists of a large circular injera (sour bread made from teff flour) with a selection of salads and wots (spicy meat or vegetable stews) spooned on top of it. You eat with your hands, ripping off pieces of injera to use instead of utensils.

Ethiopians don’t eat meat for 55 days before Easter, which worked out perfectly for me since I’m effectively a vegetarian in Africa. Almost every night, Juliet and I would order the “fasting platter,” which was a little bit different in each place but would usually look something like this:

Clockwise starting from the yellow blob on the right, this platter (one of our favorites) included (1) a yellow lentil wot that I think is called kik alicha; (2) spiced potato stew; (3) a very fresh-tasting tomato and onion salad; (4) a black lentil wot; (5) gomen (cooked spinach and collard greens with spices); (6) corn firfir (ripped up pieces of injera soaked in corn and spices); (7) more gomen; (8) misur wot, made with red lentils and spices; and (9) in the middle — shiro wot, made from chick peas and split peas.

Our favorites were shiro, misur, and the potato stew, each of which was indescribably delicious.  If you like vegetables and spices and have never had these foods, you should seriously leave your computer right now, find an Ethiopian restaurant, and order them.  Unless I have already made you promise not to try them until I can go with you (you know who you are).  The other lentil wots, the tomato salad, and the gomen were also quite good.  We never really got into the injera-on-injera madness that is firfir. 

After almost two weeks of Ethiopian dinners accompanied by the same conversation (“this is so good.  how can it be so good.  what do you think is in it?”), we decided to take a class, where we learned the Four Secrets of Ethiopian Cooking:

That’s right — onions, garlic, oil, and spices.  I really should have seen that coming.

Anyway, now that the secrets are out, more about the cooking class. We took the class at a small hotel in Lalibela owned by a very nice woman named Sophie, who greeted us and then left us in her nephew Mengistu’s capable hands since she had plans for Easter. Check out her hair — it is done in a traditional hairstyle specifically for Easter.

Mengistu showing us the key ingredients in the hotel’s kitchen

Juliet and I chopping veggies, which Mengistu inspected and then re-chopped (he told us we did a great job, but actions speak louder…)

Stirring something-or-other (odds are on onions and garlic) over the fire. As you can tell from my face, I did not think that the fire could be trusted.

Juliet working on making tibs, a very popular Ethiopian meat dish that involves frying pieces of meat in spiced clarified butter.

Juliet and I also got to make our own injera, although not from scratch because that takes a few days. This is teff, and beside it plates of teff flour. It looks a lot like wheat, but the grain is much smaller. It’s also gluten-free and high in iron, calcium, and fiber. It is grown mostly in the Ethiopian highlands.

Teff flour is mixed with water, left to ferment (usually for 3-4 days), and then cooked in a pan to make injera.

The final products: shiro wot, carrots, cabbage, and tomato salad for me; shiro, tibs, and some other meat wot for Juliet.

And finally, Juliet illustrating gursha — the Ethiopian tradition of feeding each other as a show of friendship


6 thoughts on “Eating Ethiopian

  1. Great – I want to go with you to the Ethopian restaurant, or better yet, you can cook us an Ethopian meal… love it all xx Mom

  2. You had to know you were going to make us salivate after this post. Reading this before lunch isn’t helping things! Glad you’re having a great time, and thanks for letting us experience this vicariously through you! Love from All

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