Ethiopian Cuisine

Ethiopian cuisine is becoming increasingly popular internationally. However, this voguish, 21st century, cooking is always seven years behind. What does that mean we might hear you say? Most of the world use the Gregorian calendar, albeit there are in excess of 40 different calendars in the world for religious, cultural and local reasons. Ethiopia is one such country that goes by the ‘Bahere Hasab’ calendar (alternatively known as the Ethiopian calendar) This ancient calendar runs on 13 months and believe it or not, their time also works differently.

African Continent

Ethiopia is a country located in the Horn of Africa (East Coast) and covers an area of about 1.1 million square kilometres (426,400 square miles), making it the 27th largest country in the world, with a population over 115 million. It is the 2nd most populous country of the African continent.

It is its historical timeline and its indigenous population, of which encompasses so many religions and cultures that makes it so interesting. Although Amharic, is spoken by most of the population, there are over 80 different ethnic languages spoken throughout Ethiopia, reflecting the country's rich cultural diversity. This vast array of cultures, religions and history make it a gastronomic melting pot for the food and beverage scene. It’s certainly spicy! 

Ethiopian cuisine is known for its rich, piquant flavours and unique cooking techniques, which have evolved over the centuries.

Some of the key culinary influences on Ethiopian food include:

The use of spices such as turmeric, cumin, and ginger in Ethiopian cooking is thought to have been influenced by Indian traders who voyaged to Ethiopia centuries ago.

Ethiopia's proximity to the Middle East has led to the incorporation of certain spices and ingredients such as cardamom, cinnamon, and dates in Ethiopian cuisine.

Italy occupied Ethiopia for 5 years from 1936 to 1941, and during that time, Italian cuisine had a significant impact on Ethiopian food. Italian dishes such as pasta and pizza were introduced, as well as new cooking techniques and ingredients such as olive oil and tomatoes.

Ethiopia is home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, and Jewish cuisine has had an influence on Ethiopian food. For example, injera, a type of sour fermented flatbread that is a staple of Ethiopian cuisine, similar to the Jewish dish matzah.

Overall, Ethiopian cuisine has been shaped by a variety of cultural influences over the centuries, resulting in a unique and flavourful culinary tradition that is enjoyed around the world.

  • Injera flatbread is made from teff flour, considered a staple in Ethiopian cuisine.
injera Ethiopian flatbreadIn fact, injera is considered as an extension to your hands when eating to scoop up all the deliciousness that comes from there different cuisines. Typically, Ethiopians do not use cutlery.
Injera is traditionally served on a large communal platter with the wot placed on top.
  • (The “Doro Wot” for example, is the crown jewel of Ethiopian cuisine, which is a spicy chicken stew) Diners use torn pieces of injera to scoop up the wot and eat with their hands, making injera with wot a popular and social way of dining in Ethiopia.

Injera with wot is not only a staple dish in Ethiopian cuisine, but it is also an important part of the country's cultural heritage and identity, often served during festivals and celebrations, and enjoyed by Ethiopians both at home and abroad.

  • Wat/Wot is a spicy stew made with meat, vegetables, and various spices, such as BERBERE (a chili pepper spice blend). 
  • Tibs are typically grilled or sautéed meat finished with MITMITA (a chilli finishing spice blend), often served with injera. 
Ethiopian meat tibs
  • Kitfo is a dish made from raw, minced beef, seasoned with spices, and often served with injera. In a way, the recipe simulates the 13th century dish, steak tartar that is said to have origins from Turkish nomads who collaborated with the
Kifto Ethiopian meat with mitmita seasoning
Mongolian armies of Ghengis Khan at the Polish borderlands. However, should you read further information, the origins can come from French Polynesia.
  • Shiro is a stew made from ground chickpeas or lentils, often served as a vegetarian option.
  • Fasolia is a dish made from green beans and carrots cooked in a spicy tomato sauce.
  • Gomen is a dish made from collard greens and mitmita and Buticha is a spread made from ground chickpeas and spices.

Ethiopian cuisine has a rich tradition of beverages that are unique to the country, many of which have cultural and ceremonial significance.

Here are some of the most popular beverages that Ethiopians drink:

  • Coffee is an important part of Ethiopian culture, and traditional coffee ceremonies are commonly held in an high esteem ritual symbol of hospitality and friendship. Considered to be the birthplace of coffee, the ceremony involves roasting and brewing coffee beans in front of guests, served with popcorn.
  • Tella is a traditional Ethiopian beer made from fermented grains such as barley or teff. It is often served in large communal bowls and consumed through long straws.
  • Tej is a honey wine that is a popular drink during festivals and celebrations in Ethiopia. It is made by fermenting honey, water, and sometimes hops or gesho leaves.
  • Areki is a clear traditional Ethiopian liquor made from fermented grains, similar to other spirits like vodka or whiskey. We are sure you could try our Bloody Mary Cocktail with MITMITA with Areki if you can find it.

Overall, Ethiopian beverages offer a wide range of flavours and cultural significance, making them an important part of Ethiopian culinary traditions.

The spice blend MITMITA , part of the Camelēr Spice Co collection is often used in Ethiopian cuisine. It is typically made from a combination of ground chili peppers, cloves, cumin, cardamom, salt, and other spices, depending on the recipe. Camelēr Spice Co heritage blends are always low to zero sodium. Mitmita is known for its heat and is often used to add a spicy kick to stews, sauces, and other dishes in Ethiopian cuisine.

The exact ingredients and alchemy of mitmita can vary depending on the region and the cook, but it is generally a blend of spicy and aromatic spices. Mitmita can be used in conjunction with berbere, another popular Ethiopian spice blend that is also used in many stews and dishes.

While mitmita is primarily used in Ethiopian cuisine, it is gaining popularity in other parts of the world as well, particularly among people who enjoy spicy and flavourful food. Traditionally this tabletop finishing seasoning is used in the same way, as many of us who use salt and pepper. Recipes such as Ribeye Steak, and Homemade burgers are just some of the sublime recipes that we have developed that give a swell of heat on the pallet that have a unique and heady balance.

Berbere and mitmita are both spice blends used in Ethiopian cuisine, but they have some key differences in terms of their ingredients and how they are used.

Berbere is also a complex spice blend that typically includes chili peppers, garlic, ginger, onion, paprika, fenugreek, cumin, and other spices. It is used as a base for many Ethiopian stews and sauces, including the popular doro wot (chicken stew) and sega wat (beef stew). Berbere has a spicy flavour, with a balance of heat, sweetness, and aromatics.

Mitmita, on the other hand, is a spicier, heady blend, often made with ground chili peppers, cloves, cumin, cardamom, and salt. As the forementioned, in a synopsis, it is traditionally used as a finishing spice or condiment, added to dishes just before serving to add an extra kick of heat and flavour. The name "mitmita" comes from the Amharic language, which is the official language of Ethiopia, and it is believed to be derived from the word "mitemata," which means "very hot" or "fiery". The heat will always be dependant on the household and the region of the country. You can buy MITMITA by clicking here.

There are various nuances when it comes to curry in Ethiopian cuisine. Doro Wot is often referred to as a spicy chicken stew or a chicken curry. Although, curry might not be a traditional Ethiopian dish per se, it is possible to find curry dishes in some Ethiopian restaurants or homes. Depending on the semantics, a spicy stew might be considered a curry.

Italian cuisine has had a significant influence on Ethiopian cuisine due to Italy's colonization of Ethiopia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as we mentioned earlier.

During the colonization, Italians introduced new ingredients, cooking techniques, and dishes to Ethiopia. They brought ingredients such as pasta, tomatoes, and olive oil, which became integrated into Ethiopian cuisine. For example, pasta dishes such as spaghetti and lasagne are now commonly found in Ethiopian cuisine, particularly in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

The Italians also influenced the way that Ethiopians prepare and present food. They introduced the idea of serving multiple courses in a meal and introduced new methods of baking and cooking, such as baking bread in ovens instead of using traditional methods. Click here to read about a history of bread.

Another possible example of Ethiopian influence on Italian cuisine is the use of spices. Ethiopian cuisine is known for its complex and flavourful spice blends, and some Italian dishes, such as sausage and meatballs, use spices that are like those found in Ethiopian cuisine.

While the Italians had a significant influence on Ethiopian cuisine during their colonization of Ethiopia, there is less evidence of a direct influence of Ethiopian cuisine on Italian cuisine. However, it is possible that some Ethiopian ingredients and dishes may have had an impact on Italian cuisine.

One example of a possible Ethiopian influence on Italian cuisine is coffee. Italian coffee culture, with its emphasis on espresso drinks and socializing in coffee shops, has become world-famous, and it may have been influenced by the Ethiopian tradition of coffee ceremonies.

Overall, the Italian influence on Ethiopian cuisine can be seen in the use of certain ingredients and cooking techniques, as well as in the creation of new fusion dishes that combine Italian and Ethiopian flavours.

Ethiopian cuisine has a rich tradition of food customs and rituals that are important to Ethiopians and their cultural identity. Here are a few examples of Ethiopian food traditions:

teff ancient flour
Injera as mentioned earlier is not only a staple food in Ethiopia, but it is also an important part of the country's culinary and cultural heritage. It is traditionally made by women, who mix teff flour with water and allow it to ferment for several days before cooking it on a hot clay plate called a “mitad”. Injera is used as a utensil, with diners tearing off pieces to scoop up stews and other dishes. 

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians follow a strict fasting regimen, which involves abstaining from animal products and certain foods on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as during Lent and other religious holidays.

Ethiopians have a strong tradition of communal dining, with food often shared from a large communal plate. This tradition of sharing food is seen as a symbol of unity and social harmony.

Ethiopia is known for its complex and flavourful spice blends, which are an important part of many traditional dishes. The most famous of these are berbere and mitmita.

Overall, Ethiopian food traditions are an integral part of the country's cultural heritage, and they reflect the importance of food in Ethiopian society, as well as the country's long history and diverse influences.

Ethiopian cuisine is not generally known for its pasta dishes outside of the main cities. Traditional staples of Ethiopian cuisine are grains such as teff, wheat, barley, and sorghum, which are used to make breads, flatbreads, and porridges. However, there are some dishes in Ethiopian cuisine that may include pasta-like elements or ingredients.

For example, there is a dish called "fossolia" that is made with green beans cooked in a tomato-based sauce, and it is sometimes served over pasta. Additionally, there is a type of bread called "ambasha" mentioned later, that is similar in texture to a soft, fluffy dinner roll, and it is sometimes made with pasta flour “OO” as an ingredient. However, it is important to note that these dishes are not traditionally considered to be pasta dishes in Ethiopian cuisine, and they are not as common as other Ethiopian dishes such as injera with wot or kitfo.

Niter kibbeh is a type of spiced butter that is made by cooking (clarifying) butter with a blend of spices such as ginger, garlic, and cardamom. It is used as a cooking fat in many Ethiopian dishes and is an essential ingredient in many stews and sauces. We believe that Mitmita would really lend itself to this recipe.

The Jewish community in Ethiopia, also known as Beta Israel or Falasha, has a unique cuisine that has been influenced by Jewish dietary laws as well as local Ethiopian food traditions. Here are some examples of Jewish influences on Ethiopian cuisine; 

  • Ambasha is a type of bread that is like challah and is often made by Jewish families in Ethiopia for Shabbat and other religious celebrations.
  • Tej, of which we mentioned earlier, is a type of honey wine that is popular throughout Ethiopia, but it is also an important part of Jewish cuisine in Ethiopia. Tej is often used in religious ceremonies and is a traditional part of Jewish celebrations in Ethiopia.

Overall, the Jewish community in Ethiopia has made important contributions to Ethiopian cuisine, and their unique blend of Jewish and Ethiopian food traditions has helped to shape the diverse and flavourful cuisine of the country.

Lake tana ethiopia

Geographically as some of you will know, Ethiopia is a landlocked country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, and Sudan. Despite being landlocked, Ethiopia has a long history of trade and commerce with neighbouring countries, and it has developed strong transportation and communication networks to facilitate its economic activities. The country also has several large lakes and rivers, including Lake Tana, which is the source of the Blue Nile, one of the main tributaries of the Nile River.

Ethiopians have several fish recipes that are popular in various regions of the country. Fish is an important source of protein for many Ethiopians, particularly those living near lakes and rivers. Ethiopian fish dish suggestions:

  • Asa Tibs is a dish made from fried or sautéed fish that is seasoned with spices and served with injera bread.
  • In some regions of Ethiopia, injera bread is served with a spicy fish sauce made from onion, garlic, tomato, and chili pepper.
  • Tihlo is a dish made from roasted barley flour that is similar to couscous. It is often served with a fish stew made with tomato, garlic, and chili pepper.
  • Dulet is a spicy dish made from minced meat and organs (such as liver, kidney, and heart) that is often served with fish. 
Colourful Ethiopian Axum Plates

These are just a few examples of the many fish dishes that are enjoyed in Ethiopia, and the exact ingredients and preparation methods can vary depending on the region and the family recipe.

The main religion of Ethiopia is Christianity, with most Ethiopians belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. According to the 2007 Ethiopian census, over 43% of the population is Ethiopian Orthodox.

In addition to Christianity, there is also a significant Muslim minority in Ethiopia, with approximately 34% of the population identifying as Muslim. Other religions practiced in Ethiopia include traditional African religions, Judaism, and various Protestant denominations.

Ethiopian women lighting candles

Ethiopia is often held in high esteem as a great example of religions coexisting peacefully. Religion plays an important role in Ethiopian society. Religious festivals and celebrations are an important part of the country's cultural heritage. Both Christianity and Islam have a long history in Ethiopia, dating back centuries, and they have each left their mark on the country's art, music, and cuisine.

Ethiopians do not eat pork primarily for religious reasons, as pork is considered unclean or impure in both the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam, which are the two main religions in Ethiopia. In the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the prohibition against eating pork is based on the Old Testament law that forbids the consumption of unclean animals. Similarly, in Islam, the consumption of pork is prohibited by the Quran, which states that it is an impure animal.

In addition to religious reasons, there may also be cultural and historical reasons for the avoidance of pork in Ethiopia. For example, some scholars have suggested that the hot and arid climate in Ethiopia may have made it difficult to raise pigs in the past, which could have contributed to the development of cultural taboos against eating pork. Whatever the reasons, the avoidance of pork is an important part of Ethiopian culture and cuisine, and there are many delicious and flavourful dishes that are made with other meats and ingredients.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which is the dominant religion in Ethiopia, has dietary restrictions that prohibit the consumption of shellfish. This is also based on the Old Testament law that forbids the consumption of certain seafood, including shellfish, that do not have fins and scales. As a result, many Ethiopians do not eat shellfish, including crab, lobster, shrimp, and clams, among others.

In addition to religious reasons, there may also be practical and cultural reasons why shellfish are not commonly eaten in Ethiopia. As Ethiopia is a landlocked country with limited access to fresh seafood, this may have contributed to a cultural preference for other types of fish and ingredients.

It is imperative to say that, not all Ethiopians follow these dietary restrictions, and there may be variations in dietary practices depending on factors such as region, religion, and personal preference. As we stated in the beginning, there are over 80 different ethnic languages spoken in this great landscape. However, for many Ethiopians, the avoidance of pork and shellfish is an important part of their religious and cultural traditions.

There are many stories and anecdotes about Ethiopian emperors and other famous Ethiopians having special food requests or preferences. Here are a few examples;

  • Emperor Haile Selassie was known for his refined palate and enjoyed a variety of international cuisines. He reportedly had a personal chef who prepared dishes from around the world, including Italian, French, and Indian cuisine.
  • According to legend, the Queen of Sheba, who is believed to have been from Ethiopia, brought spices and exotic foods such as frankincense and myrrh to King Solomon of Israel as gifts.
  • Ethiopian Olympic gold medallist Abebe Bikila was said to have eaten a special diet of injera (the traditional Ethiopian flatbread made from teff flour) and goat's milk to help him prepare for his races.
  • Marcus Samuelsson, the Ethiopian-born, Swedish-raised chef, has spoken about the influence of Ethiopian cuisine on his cooking, and has described the flavours and spices of Ethiopian food as "incredibly unique and complex."

You do not have to be famous to embrace the love of Ethiopian culture. Why not try some of our existing recipes with Mitmita or innovate and adapt to some of the dishes that we have mentioned in this blog. MITMITA is one of our best selling spice mixes and you can buy here
If you want to discover more award winning spice blends from our spices of the world collection, then click here

Camel caravan danakil desert Ethiopia


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