Ethiopia has a unique cuisine, one that will appeal particularly to vegans and those with a taste for spice, but tourist-orientated hotels also serve a varied selection of international dishes catering to less adventurous palates.
The main Ethiopia staple is injera, a type of foam-textured pancake that comes in three different cultured varieties: white, brown and red. The dough for injera is fermented for three days before it is cooked, hence the texture and a slightly sour taste.
The best injera is made with tef, a nutritious fiber-rich gluten-free germ that comprises 15% protein, and contains many times more calcium and iron than other grains. Unique to Ethiopia, tef is also the only grain to contain symbiotic yeast, which means that no other yeast needs to be added to prepare injera.
A variety of different stew-like sauces are eaten with injera. These include tibs (spicy fried meat mixed with onions and peppers), shiro(spicy puréed chickpeas) and kai wot (a hot stew usually made with fish, beef, goat or chicken meat).
It is customary to eat with your hands in Ethiopia, and for a party of diners to eat from the same plate, tearing off pieces of injera and using them to scoop up the accompaniment.
Vegans are well catered for in Ethiopia, since the Orthodox Church recognises around 200 fasting days, when it is forbidden to eat any food containing animal products. Wednesday and Friday are always fasting days, as are the 40 days of Ethiopian Lent (most of March and April) and various other religious holidays. A common dish on fasting days is a kind of vegetable buffet called atkilt bayinetu, which comprises dollops of several vegan dishes placed on a plate of injera.
Bread - known locally as dabo - can usually be served in place of injera. Another popular staple, especially in the south, is enset (false banana). Most restaurants catering to tourists will also serve as selection of international dishes, known locally as ‘faranji food’.
Popular drinks include locally brewed beer called tella and a kind of honey wine know as tej. Several varieties of chilled lager-type bottled beer are also available, while red and white Rift Valley Wine is produced by the French-owned Castel Winery in Ziway. Locally bottled Ambo sparkling mineral water is available almost everywhere, along with several brands of still water.
Addis Ababa has several wonderful cultural restaurants where a wide range of Ethiopian specialties is served in traditional tukul-style buildings, accompanied by colorful traditional music and dance.
The origin and history of coffee dates back to the 10th century, and possibly earlier with a number of reports and legends surrounding its first use. The native (undomesticated) origin of coffee is thought to have been Ethiopia. Ethiopia, is the original home of the coffee (Arabica) plant. Kaffa, the province in the south-western highlands where they first blossomed, gave its name to coffee. The formal cultivation and use of coffee as a beverage began early in the 9th century. Prior to that, coffees trees grew wild in the forests of Kaffa, and may in the region were familiar with the berries and the drink. According to Ethiopia’s ancient history, an Abyssinian goatherd, Kaldi, who lived around AD 850, discovered coffee. He observed his goats prancing excitedly and bleating loudly after chewing the bright red berries that grew on some green bushes nearby. Kaldi tried a few berries himself, and soon felt a sense of elation. He filled his pockets with the berries and ran home to announce his discovery. At his wife’s suggestion, he took the berries to the Monks in the monastery near Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile River.