Exploring Ethiopian Cuisine
By Rebecca Kim
What to Order
A first-timer’s best friend.
Very traditional, very spicy.
Where’s the beef? Right here. And it’s raw.
You want me to eat with my hands and pick off food from the same plate with others? Not my cup of tea.
Despite my hang-ups about the dining protocol, after trying Ethiopian for the first time with restaurateur Meaza Zemedu at her namesake restaurant, Meaza, my fears of the “exotic” cuisine have totally subsided.
Injera is the staple bread traditionally made out of teff flour (gluten-free), which is a native grass in Ethiopia dating back as far as 1000 B.C. Injera is a flat, crepe-like pancake and has a porous, spongy texture on top and smooth, flat texture on the bottom. Dishes such as stews and meat are served on top of the injera, turning the bread into a full-fledged utensil with which to escort the rest of the meal into your mouth. “The smaller, the better,” Zemedu counsels, suggesting that the sponge-like injera will ultimately expand in the belly.
Doro wat is the national dish of Ethiopia. It is a dark, spicy stew that can be made with chicken, beef, lamb, fish or goat, hard-boiled eggs, awaze–a fiery sauce containing cardamom, cloves, pepper, turmeric, ginger, salt, nutmeg and rue—Ethiopian butter (herbed butter sauce with a spicy aroma), legumes and vegetables. “It is a very traditional dish of Ethiopia,” Zemedu shares. “We eat doro wat on special occasions, like turkey for Thanksgiving.”
Kitfo is another culinary mainstay originally made popular by the Gurage tribe in Ethiopia but now enjoyed all over the country. It is finely chopped raw beef seasoned with mitmita (spiced chili powder with chile peppers, cardamom, cloves, salt and cumin or ginger) and Ethiopian butter. The audacious first-timer may try the raw kitfo, but everyone else can opt for the cooked alternative, which is almost as good. Zemedu says she recommends people order the vegetable combination when they try Ethiopian food for the first time—not intimidating but gives a good glimpse of Ethiopian cuisine.