If you live in a sizable city, chances are you’ve tried Ethiopian food. Even the long-running cartoon sitcom The Simpsons includes an episode where Marge and the kids learn to “rip and dip” into the rich stews you’ll find on an Ethiopian table.
The cuisine is one of the world’s healthiest and most flavorful, not to mention most photogenic. Ethiopians are rightly proud of their culture and take pains to preserve traditional food ways.This is a land where extreme hospitality reigns. In the words of Eliza Richman, cofounder of the excellent Addis Eats walking tours (which I participated in when I visited the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, last year), “You’d better announce you already ate when you arrive at someone’s house.
You’re going to eat two plates of food no matter what.” A very nice tradition is a “gursha,” which refers to feeding close friends and family a bite during the meal. Since food is generally eaten with the hands, this is a very intimate and loving gesture. Or, as Marge Simpson put it, “When you stick a pancake into someone’s mouth, it’s a gursha. Everybody gursha!”
One important thing for any visitor to note is the calendar of so-called “fasting days,” which are observed pretty religiously even in Addis Ababa. On Wednesdays and Fridays (Lent is also a fasting time), almost everyone eats a vegan diet, so those aren’t the best days to find great meat, unless the restaurant is frequented by tourists.
(But who wants to dine at those places?) Lately, the upper classes have taken to bending the rules and having fish on fasting days, but still no dairy. Ethiopian is one of the best cuisines for vegetarians and vegans, since these traditions mean there’s always a large variety of veggie options on the menu. You can’t go wrong with the bayenetu, a colorful smorgasbord of vegetable dishes arranged on a round of injera.
Here are 10 more essential Ethiopian dishes you should try when you travel their.