Ethiopian food in Ethiopia

I will compare to Ethiopian food in the United States, so I won’t be starting from scratch here.

The good news is that the product is tastier in Ethiopia.  But the other good news is that the U.S. version of the cuisine is fairly similar, and it really does give you a pretty good idea of at least mainstream restaurant cuisine in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopians really do eat a lot of injera, made out of teff.  Firfir dishes, which use injera soaked in spices, are far more common in Ethiopian cuisine in Ethiopia than in the U.S. equivalent.  Overall, the quality, subtlety, and diversity of injera is higher in Ethiopia, as you might expect.

Bozena Shiro is another staple, present in both countries but again far more common in Ethiopia.

Doro Wat — chicken in the red sauce — is the dish that improves the most in Ethiopia.  The sauce is richer and more subtle, more in the direction of a Mexican mole than just a mere curry.

I had two meals in private homes, one in a well-to-do apartment in Addis, the other in a rural village.  Neither overturned the basic impressions I have been receiving from the restaurant food.

I ate kitfo [raw beef] once and did not get sick or even feel queasy.

The fresh honey is much better in Ethiopia than what you might get in a restaurant in America.  And they pop fresh popcorn rather frequently.

Especially outside of Addis Ababa, prices are very cheap.  I stayed in the nicest hotel at the number one tourist site, namely Lalibela, with its underground, rock-hewn churches.  A single course at breakfast cost about a dollar and was enough for a meal.  Presumably some other prices are cheaper yet.

This is a wonderful country for vegetarians and vegans.  I am told that for the Christian religiously observant, about one-third of all days specify an abstention from meat.  So virtually all restaurants have a wide selection of vegetarian food and it is no worse than the meat dishes, perhaps better on average.

As for foreign cuisines, I had the best outcome with Indian food, perhaps because many of the spices and cooking techniques are similar.  There are Sudanese and Yemeni restaurants in Addis, Italian food is plentiful (it’s not always exactly Italian, but Castelli’s is amazing), and the Chinese meal I had was decent but not sufficiently Chinese.


How has the weather been? Based on what I've read, May should still be the dry season, but with some rains already arriving and hot weather.

I'm trying to figure out the best month to visit; the main tradeoff seems to be better weather during the dry season (which is most of the year) but more tourist crowds. I'm leaning toward mid- or late-October.

It is nice to visit Ethiopian in October where you can experience the very fresh air along with fresh vegetables and stunning green landscape view.

"Doro Wat — chicken in the red sauce —" - wuz dat? The red sauce, not tomato?

You can eat breakfast at the nicest hotel for a mere dollar? Wow.

Genuinely confused at the distinction being drawn in the “just a mere curry” comment.

just a mere curry = McCormick curry powder. in strip mall joints they buy ingredients at walmart or costco.

Actually, at least in a place like the DC region, there are cheaper places to buy much better curry than what you find at Walmart or Costco. At least that was true in the not so distant past.

However, that is counterbalanced by the fact that restaurants are a business that sell what customers buy, and if most customers are looking for ye olde McCormick spicing, then that is what a restaurant is likely to offer.

(Old Bay doesn't count - that actually is a regional spice mixture that is completely appropriate for a strip mall crab place in the region.)

One could have expected at least a remark on coffee in the place where it originated.

Which is the sort of beverage that some of us would want to try in its birthplace, but clearly this is not the spiced drink that Prof. Cowen wants to have.

"the Chinese meal I had was decent but not sufficiently Chinese"

Dude, you forgot to ask for the secret menu!

Which Chinese place did you go to, Sunshine?

What's it to you, Cupcake?

The mountainous parts of West Africa are unusual for their abundance of bananas. A wide variety of cultivated species. Which is odd because the banana's home range is in south-east Asia and there is no obvious way for the bananas to have reached Africa (except perhaps for the people of Madagascar).

However Ethiopia also has an unusual plant - the False banana, or Ensete ventricosum. The Ethiopians do not eat the fruit but rather the root and the stem:

I have always been impressed by a 20 foot tall edible herb. So my question is, has anyone eaten it and what does it taste like?

I don't know about this particular one, but in south India dal/curry is made from banana stem (and also curry from banana flower, which looks very much like one of the pictures from the wikipedia link you gave), here is a recipe:

It tends to be somewhat bland, may be one way to approximate a description is as a more fibrous and "crunchy" version of what you get if you prepare chop Chayote squash finely and boil.

Aside: In some ways, I find Ethiopian restaurant food in the US closer to home-made south Indian food than food from Indian restaurants. They don't spoil things by adding too much oil or Punjabi-masala-type spice combinations.

Don't know about the stem but a curry made from the flower with green gram (lentils) is very tasty.
Interesting comment about Ethiopian and South Indian Food. Perhaps thats why Tyler enjoyed the Indian food he ate in Ethiopia.

Well technically a plantain is not a banana but close enough. That is very interesting. I did not know that. It sounds pretty good actually.

I find it interesting that bananas and plantains are eaten all the way around the world - but pretty much only in tropical areas where they grow. Which is perhaps not that surprising. But the English speaking world has not taken to them except the dessert banana. You get African-origin dishes in Latin America. The Third World has fried bananas, mashed bananas, roasted bananas, deep fried bananas, banana flour, even banana ketchup in the Philippines. The First World is more or less stuck on one individual from one variety in the Cavendish banana.

It is interesting because Africa had a big influence on the cooking in Spanish and Portuguese America. A dish like mofongo, made with plantains, is very common in the Caribbean and is obviously African. But although the English-speakers brought slaves, they did not take to their cooking at all.

Which is a long way back to Ethiopian food - maybe a direct link with India? Jamaican food is often very strongly influenced by India. Along with the Rastafarian's dreadlocks and ganga. Perhaps Indians either sailed there via Yemen or came to build the railway in Kenya?

Good comment, good questions. I don't know the answer though I too am curious about that :( The Indian influence in Jamaica is not surprising though, the British brought Indian laborers there for their plantations.

(Also, I don't quite follow the difference between bananas and plantains; where I live there are simply several varieties of that fruit of several sizes, and I don't know which are banana, which are plantain).

Enset is the main (only?) ingredient in qocho, which is by far the best way to eat kitfo, though qocho cannot be found in the US. The best preparation of qocho is yetetebese, "fried" or "roasted."

Roasted qocho is hard to describe; kind of like a seitan? Firm, not crumbly, not spongy. I don't have a good explanation but it's quite good with spiced meat. Unroasted qocho is kind of forgettable, IMO.

He ate raw beef and didn't get sick right away. Of course, it takes weeks for the worms to mature!

In Brazil, we use fire to cook our meat, but who cares? We are not exotic enough...

This is my favorite Thiago post yet.

Thanks, sometimes the simplest truths are the deepest truths.

No one cares because Brazil sucks.

No, Brazil does not suck. Quite the opposite, many people come to visit Brazil and never leave. Even if Brazil sucked, which it doesn't, it surely would suck way less than a country where people don't even know how to cook their meat.

Ah, I see the confusion. American's use ovens and microwaves and modern appliances.

Not cooking pits.

But you need electricity for those.

It is not like that! We have lots of microwaves and electricity in Brazil. Brazil built the second most powerful hydropower plant in history. But most food is cooked with stoves and ovens. We are not pathetic, lonesome Americans with their pathetic TV Dinners whinning their women don't like them and they need to redistribute sex.
My stove uses electricity-generated flames to cook the food swiftly and evenly preserving its freshness and juiceness.

Gosh, Brazilian technology must be something! Could you explain the process by which electricity generates flames? Or perhaps your choice of terms was ill considered, perhaps you should have said electrically initiated flames? Electricity - at the currents and voltages common in the home (even in Brazil) will not generate flames.

That's, at best, a pedantic distinction, a distiction without a difference even. The point is, a powerful electricity generated spark is used to produce flames, which we use to cook food. Not to mention the cutting stoves we are testing right now which use powerful copper coils to cook food.

" Quite the opposite, many people come to visit Brazil and never leave"

Verdade, os mortos nao viajem....

Actually, the correct is "não viajam". And that's not true. Families are legally allowed to require their dear departed ones' bodies as long as they shoulder the cost of transportation and legal taxes. I am talking about living people who fall in love for Brazil and never, ever return home.

"many people come to visit Brazil and never leave"

Come on, slavery was abolished in Brazil almost 50 years ago!

Actually, Slavery was abolished in May 13th, 1888 through the Lei Áurea (Golden Law). Some provinces of the Empire of Brazil had already abolished it before the federal government abolished it
But I am talking about foreigners who like Brazil so much that they decide never go back to their countries, homes and families.

>> As for foreign cuisines, I had the best outcome with Indian food, perhaps because many of the spices and cooking techniques are similar.

I've noticed that as well: there's a broad arc from East Africa up through the Near East and Middle East, all the way out to India, that shares a common underlying style of cuisine but with culturally-specific elements.

Have you considered writing about the interconnections between food and culture in a geographical sense--in other words, using cuisine as a proxy for ethnic migration, in the same way that languages are often used?

Scratching my head trying to figure out why Ethiopian food in Ethiopia being better than where he has sampled it in the USA is "good news". ... Ah, since he values travel, and a good travel experience is "better" than a restaurant visit in his home town, and I suppose a bad experience is worse, then having a handful of better meals while traveling is preferred to being able to have the same (or better) experience whenever he's home. Me, I'd rather have access to the better food regularly.

Or did he mean its "good news" because it is actually palatable over there, while not so much here? IDK.

Amy's Ethiopian in Nashville serves fitfit and kitfo. I will not claim its superiority to what you have tasted, though the immigrant story biases my opinion.

I am particular to ethnic cuisine because of the variety of vegetarian options. Chickpeas, lentils, split peas, green beans, favas, cabbage, collards. There is an unpretentious air to the meal similar to the beans, greens, and cornbread of my youth.

The religious observance is fitting when one considers the sanctity of life that should accompany faith. I cannot imagine Americans adopting this practice.

They have fire in Brazil????

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