October 16, 2020

Ethiopian Cuisine: Beauty in its uniqueness


Whenever someone thinks about Ethiopian Cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind might be…

Ethiopian Cuisine: Beauty in its uniqueness

Whenever someone thinks about Ethiopian Cuisine, the first thing that comes to mind might be injera or stew. One might talk about how it is organic and uses vegetables, but not many are aware that there are more than 100 different traditional foods. Ethiopian cuisine much like other aspects of the culture is one of the most unique and diverse cuisines in the world. The only country that shares a similar cuisine is neighboring Eritrea. Like people in other parts of the world, each tribe in Ethiopia has its own beliefs and attitudes relating to foods.

The country’s typical dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, lamb, vegetables, and various types of legumes, such as lentils. But today Addis Zeybe would like to introduce you to two of the less talked about dishes that are found only in Ethiopia. Every dish tells a story of eighty-plus ethnic groups it has a lot to say about the way of life of the people of that specific ethnic group. 

In the border by the Somali Region to the east; the Amhara Region, the Afar Region, and the Benishangul-Gumuz Region to the north; Dire Dawa to the northeast; the South Sudanese state of Upper Nile, Gambella Region, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region and Sidama Region to the west exists the Oromia region. The Oromo people have a unique way of making injera. In most regions in the country, Injera is usually made from teff powder but in the Oromia region, it’s made out of corn. Corn injera in the Oromo communities in Shoa Province is made differently, as far as records show. The corn is crushed between stones, and hot water is added to form a thick dough. This dough is fermented during the day and after that, the dough is kneaded twice between stones, and water is added to obtain the desired consistency of the dough, which is then baked, making it slightly different than the usual type of injera that is made of Teff. 

Emebet Seboka who is from Ambo Located in the West Shewa Zone of the Oromia Region, west of Addis Ababa, says corn was easily accessible where she grew up. Because of its easy availability corn is often mixed with other food ingredients. She says it was usually mixed with barley mostly known as the gebse and that it is sometimes used for making Ethiopian traditional drinks. When asked about the corn injera Emebet stressed that making corn injera requires a real professional skill. “What makes corn injera different from teff is that corn can be mixed with hot water and baked immediately but proper care must be taken to remove the injera from the pan.”

Our quest to find a unique traditional Ethiopian cuisine also takes us to Sidama region. On 23 November 2019, the Sidama Zone became the 10th regional state in Ethiopia after a zone-wide referendum. As avid coffee drinkers and enset eaters, the Sidama cultivate these crops for their lives, using some of the world's oldest farming techniques, which honor not only the earth but also themselves. 

Enset is the region’s most famous and well-known plant. It's called wesse in the Sidamo language. The enset is grinding and fermenting the root to produce wassa, it is used in the preparation of several foods. Amulcho is an enset flatbread used similarly to injera to eat wots (stews) made from beef, mushrooms, beans, gomen (collard greens), and pumpkin. Borasaame is a cooked mixture of wassa and butter sometimes eaten with Ethiopian mustard greens. It is traditionally eaten by hand using a false banana leaf and is served in a 'shafeta, a vase-like ceramic vessel.

Acoording to a research on Research Gate which was done on this unique Ethiopian cuisine, Enset which is the main and preferred food, provides more calories per unit of area than do most cereals and is drought resistant. These are important characteristics given to combat problems caused by increases in population density and the frequency of droughts. Enset provides fodder for cattle, especially in times of drought when other grasses and grains are not available, and, in turn, cattle provide fertilizer for the enset.

Like the country's culture, the eating style is unique as well. Even the way Ethiopian food is served, on a communal platter, is designed for sharing food. Some might say that food is not meant to be eaten alone in the culture of Ethiopia. As a tip for foreigners who not familiar with the eating style of the country, here are some thingsone must know when dining in Ethiopia. 

Must-know tips when dining in Ethiopia 

  • Most traditional Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands; this is done by tearing off a piece of injera, using it to grab some food, and putting it directly in your mouth.
  • Traditional meals are eaten from a communal plate, but you should not reach across to the other side to grab food; eat what is close to you.
  • It is polite to eat with your right hand - eating with the left hand is considered taboo and therefore you should avoid using it if you can.
  • The gursha is an act of friendship and love. When eating injera, a person uses his or her right hand to strip off a piece, wraps it around some wot or kitfo, and then eats it.  During a meal with friends or family, it is a common custom to feed others in the group with one's hand by putting the rolled injera or a spoon full of other dishes into another's mouth.

Ethiopia has a culture that stands out in a lot of ways, and that includes food. Ethiopian cuisine is not only some of the most diverse on the continent but also totally different from any other cuisine one might have encountered.