Introduction to Ethiopian Cuisine

Royd Carlson |
04. 23. 2024

የኢትዮጵያ ምግብ – yethiopia migib – Ethiopian Food

This guide is meant to give an overview of Ethiopian cuisine and make you feel confident with the basics. Ethiopian cuisine is ancient and complex, and as much is left out of this guide as is in it. We hope it is a good starting point for further exploration.


እንጀራ – injera – Ethiopian sourdough flat bread

ጤፍ – teff – Ethiopian staple grain teff

ምጣድ – mitad – injera grill

If you have ever tried Ethiopian food, one of the most memorable and unique parts is injera, the spongy Ethiopian sourdough bread made from teff. Injera is very versatile, serving as a plate, a spoon and a napkin all in one! It is not known exactly how old injera is, but teff was originally domesticated in the Ethiopian highlands thousands of years ago, and we can assume injera has probably been made with it for most of this time.

The basic process of making injera consists of adding the flour to water and mixing. The beneficial bacteria and yeasts that naturally reside on the teff grains cause fermentation to occur, and over the course of a few days the flour and water batter is transformed by the activity of these microbes. The mixture becomes sour as the microbes produce acids, and bubbly as they produce carbon dioxide gas.

When the injera is baked on a grill called a mitad, the gases from the fermentation and the steam from the hot grill cause the formation of bubbles, or ‘eyes’ in the injera. The most important aspect of good injera is the eyes. The eyes should be evenly spaces and roughly equal size, with not bare spots in the injera. The eyes allow the injera to best soak up the other sauces and stews in the meal. Also important are the sour taste of the injera, and the elastic texture.

Typically, the injera is baked some time prior to the meal and stored in a stack. The injera is eaten cold. One injera is used as the base to place the other elements of the meal. Additional pieces of injera are rolled up and cut into pieces. The pieces are used to eat the meal, and as the food disappears, the base injera is also eaten. At the end of the meal, there should only be the bare plate left!

Preparation Methods

As far as the other elements of the meal, there are a number of options. If you don’t know Amharic, one of the languages in Ethiopia, some of the names of the foods can be confusing. With a little bit of vocabulary, it isn’t too hard to piece together the different options on the menu.

Two of the most common types of dish you might find are wots, or stews, and tibs, or pieces of grilled meat.

ወጥ – wot – Ethiopian stew. Can contain meats or other elements.

ጥብስ – tibs – grilled pieces of meat.


Ethiopian food can be cooked in a number of different oils. During religious fasting seasons, animal fats are avoided and plant based oils are used instead. Sesame and safflower oils are common. Ethiopians also use oil as a plant called noog (ኑግ). Noog seed is actually commonly used in bird seed mixes in the United States, and the small black oil seed may be familiar if you look closely at bird seed mixes.

ንጥር ቅቤ – niter kibe – clarified butter

Kibe is a seasoned, clarified butter. The butter is simmered with an array of spices, including besobela, kosoret, fenugreek, coriander, korarima, turmeric, cinnamon or nutmeg.

Meats and Vegetables

ዶሮ – doro – chicken

ሥጋ – sega – beef

ዓሣ – asa – fish

በግ – beg – lamb

ክክ – kik – split peas

ምስር] misr – lentils

ድንች – dinich – potato

ጥብስ – ṭibs – grilled meat

ጎመን – gomen – greens

አትክልት – atkilt – vegetables

ቀይ ሥር – kay sir – red beet root

ሽሮ ወጥ – shiro wot – chickpea stew

Shiro is a stew made principally from chickpea flour which may contain garlic, onions, or other spices 


Ethiopian spicing is tasty and complex. Foods can often be quite spicy, and the number of commonly used spices is much larger than many other cuisines.

በርበሬ – berbere – Ethiopian spice mixture

Berbere is a key ingredient in Ethiopian and Eritrean food. It is a bright, deep red powder with a distinctive, spicy taste. Once you have been introduced to berbere, you will recognize its presence everywhere in Ethiopian cuisine. Typically, berbere includes a long list of spices:

Chili peppers, coriander, ginger, garlic, besobela or Ethiopian holy basil, korarima, rue, ajwain, rahuni, nigella, and fenugreek. An American audience is probably familiar with a few of these spices, but many may not have even heard of some of them, let along used them in cooking.

ሚጥሚጣ – mitmita -Ethiopian spice mixture

Mitmita is a powdered spice mix that looks similar to berbere, though a little more orange. It contains chilis, cardamom seeds, cloves, and salt.

አሊቻ – alicha – mild yellow spice

ቀይ – kay – red, used to describe dishes with a red color, usually due to the presence of berbere

Additionally, there are many other spices that many people in the United States may be unfamiliar with. These will be discussed in a future post. The list includes: besobela, kosoret, rue, ajwain, rahuni, fenugreek, nigella, and gesho.

Dishes (putting it all together)

Using the vocanbulary from above, you can start to understand the menu, and maybe even build combinations that aren’t on the menu! So ‘beg wot’ would be lamb stew, ‘doro wot’ would be chicken stew. ‘beg tibs’ would be grilled bits of lamb meat. Similarly, ‘misr wot’ would be lentil stew. You can order a few of these items and they are all placed on the plate of injera similar to the picture below.


ጠላ – talla – traditional Ethiopian beer.

Talla is a lower alcohol traditional Ethiopian beer. It is brewed from different grains, including teff and sorghum. It may also contain spices and has a smoky flavor.

ጠጅ – tej – Ethiopian honey wine.

Tej consists of three main ingredients; honey, water and a medicinal shrub called gesho. Tej can be yellow and opaque, or if it is filtered is a vibrant translucent yellow color. It is generally consumed during social events such as festivals or weddings, and religious events.

ቡና – bunna – coffee

Coffee likely originated in Ethiopia, and some of the best coffee is grown in Ethiopia today.

The Ethiopian coffee ceremony is an important aspect of a meal. It is served after the food has been consumed. The coffee is roasted in front of the meal participants, and observers are invited to smell the coffee as it roasts. The roast is typically very dark and the coffee develops a dark, almost oily sheen. The beans are then ground and put into a traditional clay coffee pot, a jebena (ጀበና). The coffee is boiled in the pot and poured into small cups. It is often consumed with sugar, herbs or even salt in some cases. Typically the ceremony includes three rounds of coffee.


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