- The African country’s cuisine is varied enough to satisfy meat lovers, vegetarians and those looking for gluten-free options
With Ethiopian New Year falling on Sunday, the UAE’s near 10,000-strong Ethiopian community will begin celebrations with pre-dawn church services, before dispersing to visit family and friends.
Food will play a major role in the festivities, as restaurants and households will be filled with the spices and aromatics of a rich African culture spanning thousands of years.
It is also an ideal time for the uninitiated to visit some of the UAE’s top family-run Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants.
Standouts include Bonne Anne and Sheger in Al Zahia, Abu Dhabi, while in Dubai, make sure to check out Zagol Restaurant and Milen Restaurant in Karama and Deira respectively.
In addition to the generous portions and affordable prices, Ethiopian cuisine offers something for everyone.
If you are a carnivore, don’t miss the succulent meat dishes.
A hallmark of the Ethiopian Orthodox faith is numerous periods of fasting, which include abstaining from dairy products. As a result, there is also a wide variety of hearty vegan dishes that form part of the nation’s cuisine.
Many of the ingredients used in Ethiopian cooking are whole foods — fruits, vegetables, non-processed meats and legumes — hence making it ideal for gluten-free diners.
Here are eight staple Ethiopian dishes to begin your culinary journey into one of Africa’s most exciting cuisines.
This is the price of entry if you want to enjoy Ethiopian food authentically.
Since cutlery is rarely involved, other than a ladle to pour the stews and curries on to the dish, injera acts as a receptacle to enjoy all that goodness.
However, it can be a challenge for those with culturally different palates.
Made from teff flour (a cereal crop from the Ethiopian highlands) and water, injera is essentially a gluten-free sourdough flatbread and its fermented flavour and spongy exterior could take some getting used to.
When you do, you will understand how useful it is to soak up all the rich flavours of the curries and stews.
The way to use the injera is to tear a healthy strip and spread it across four fingers, which are then cupped in a semi-circle.
The sizeable amount of curry is kept in place because of the thumb, which acts as an anchor, limiting any spillage.
Pop it in your mouth in one shot and enjoy the explosion of flavour and texture.
2. Doro wat
A popular and relatively spicy curry usually made with chicken (other options are goat, lamb or veggies).
While the popular dish served at family gatherings, what makes a doro wat sing is the deft use of spices, in addition to onion, clarified butter, berbere, chilli and sometimes cardamom.
A good doro wat makes no excuses when it comes to flavour.
This is why you will find it served with boiled eggs — the creamy, powdery texture of the yolk undercuts all that heat.
You should smell and hear it before it comes to you.
Served sizzling hot on a clay pot, Tibs is a carnivore’s delight featuring sliced beef that is pan-fried in butter with coarse slices of onion and peppers.
While the level of spices and amount of veggies differs in households and restaurants, the meat needs to be the star of the show.
A brilliant dish if carefully prepared, as it is basically the Ethiopian version of the French steak tartare and the Lebanese kibbeh nayyeh.
Kitfo is minced meat flavoured with the traditional Ethiopian spice blend of Mimita (chilli peppers, cardamom, cloves and salt).
While it can be served cooked, it is often consumed raw with injera and a dry cottage cheese called ayib.
If you plan to try it in a restaurant, it is best to go with recommended spots, because an ill-prepared Kitfo can make you feel unwell very quickly.
It will be tough to find a curry smoother than shiro.
This vegetarian dish is lightly spiced powdered chickpeas stewed with an abundance of minced onions, garlic and ginger.
Some households and restaurants go the extra mile when it comes to flavour by adding chopped onions and clarified butter.
Served with injera and some salad, it may be one of the more minimalist meals in the Ethiopian food canon, but it is simply delicious.
Another standout veggie dish that is flavoursome and super healthy.
Traditionally made from collard greens, kale or spinach, the leaves are braised and slow-cooked with grated onion, ginger, garlic and tomatoes.
While served with injera, this dish is so adaptable that you can add it on top of rice or quinoa.
Or if you are cutting on your carbs, just eat it with a spoon.
A morning weekend staple in many Ethiopian and Eritrean households, genfo is essentially a solidified savoury porridge presented in the shape resembling a volcano and filled with melted butter and pasty berbere.
The best way to eat it is to grab a spoonful of the porridge and dip it in the berbere before following up with a spoonful of cold yoghurt, which is served on the side.
Most Ethiopian restaurants in the UAE only serve it for breakfast because it is labour intensive to prepare.
Make sure to share it with some friends and allocate ample time for some post-meal napping.
Also called the vegetarian platter in some menus, the beyainatu is an Amharic phrase that means “a bit of everything”.
For those who practice the Ethiopian Orthodox faith, this is a particularly fulfilling dish during the fasting periods and prepared with a number of vegetables such as the aforementioned gomen and shiro, potatoes, cabbage, carrots and lettuce.