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Food in Ethiopia

Food is part of the culture in every country, so let us know something about the country before exploring the food.

Some words before the food

Ethiopia is one of the countries on the eastern side of the African continent. It is surrounded by the countries of Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. Ethiopia is a combination of mountains and plateaus with the Great Rift Valley crossing from south west to north east and surrounded by lowlands, steppes, or semi-desert. Its vast terrain diversity creates very different patterns in typical weather, soil, flora, and fauna. The climate on the central plateau is mild and enjoyable, with some rain during the summer. The lowlands tend to be hotter and have less rain.

Except for a very brief period under the rule of Italy, Ethiopia has always been an independent country, even remote to some extent. People in Ethiopia come from many ethnic groups and you will find over 100 languages or dialects spoken. Most of the Ethiopian people are Muslims or Orthodox Christians. The country has gone through war, diseases, drought, and famine and all these have had and effect on the people.

The culture is as varied as the influences and many backgrounds Ethiopia’s people have. Every group has its traditional songs passed down from generation to generation, not only hunting or religious songs, but songs to just sing at home too. Dancing is another significant community activity, and, again, almost every group has its own distinctive dance.

When talking about food in Ethiopia, names such as injera and wat are bound to come out. Injera is a staple food of Ethiopia. Injera is a kind of bread, flat and spongy, similar to a pancake, with a somewhat bitter taste. It is made mainly from teff flour. Teff is a dark, tiny and round grain that grows in the Ethiopian highlands. The injera batter is poured into a pan and baked until it becomes soft and springy; this is also the way injera was prepared a thousand years ago. For meals, a large round injera would be laid on the table and the hot food piled on top. Ethiopians would wrap a piece of bread around the hot food and tear it off, eating bread and food together; no plate or utensils required, injera covers for both apart from being food in itself. This would be the way to eat vegetable alecha, their characteristic and spicy vegetarian stew.

Wat is a spicy stew made with meat and vegetables, or just vegetables. The meat is usually lamb, beef, or chicken as very few people, if any, eat pork in Ethiopia. Wat may also be prepared with fish. When Ethiopians have meatless days, they eat stew made only with vegetables; common vegetables to find in one of these are chickpeas, lentils, and potatoes.

Ethiopians were the first to cultivate the coffee plant. The rich and delicious Ethiopian coffee is famous. Those who don’t like coffee can always have some sweetened tea.