I’m ready to admit that Ethiopian food wasn’t a cuisine I was really familiar with before venturing into Ethiopia. Yes, San Francisco and the SF Bay Area have a number of Ethiopian restaurants (and in SF they are often jazz bars or piano bars, confusingly), but I never gave them much thought.
The cuisine is different enough from most cuisines and can be a little confusing, but there’s actually not that much to learn – here’s what you need to know.
Ethiopian bread (injera)
Injera is a large sourdough bread made from fermented teff flour. It is easily the most sour bread you will ever taste. It’s not very exciting to eat the bread by itself; it needs to be accompanied by something else.
While Ethiopians may balk at the comparison, to me a wat is essentially a veggie or meat curry. Wats can be made from lots of different ingredients, but tend to be made with peas, lentils, chicken or other kinds of meat, but are often based on a tomato/onion sauce with chili. The names for each ‘curry’ is wat … like wat doro for chicken ‘curry’.
Veggie appetizer – beyayenetu
Most Ethiopian restaurants in the US and Ethiopia will serve an excellent vegetarian appetizer plate called beyayenetu. This is the best way to try lots of different wats at the same time.
Another option for Ethiopian meals are meat tibs. These are sauteed pieces of meat (often dried) that are used to make a paste with tomato and injera. Then the injera mix is served with other vegetables (or a tomato salad) on more injera.
Anyone else who thinks that sometimes Ethiopians overdo their love for injera a bit?
Raw meat (kitfo)
Another Ethiopian specialty is very spicy raw meat called kitfo. I tried it just once and while it tasted great, I wasn’t ready to eat lots of it. The level of hygiene even in good restaurants isn’t exactly high and handling raw meat needs a lot of qualifications. I have trouble even trusting most US restaurants for that.
While in Addis Ababa, I had meals at these places that I can very much recommend:
I can only repeat that if you love coffee, Ethiopia will blow your mind. The quality and abundance of coffee at minimal prices is without comparison anywhere the world.
I really loved the coffee at To.Mo.Ca Coffee in Addis and in many restaurants too.