What makes Ethiopian food so special

I first tasted Ethiopian food in 2013 in a tiny Ethiopian restaurant called little Addis in Maboneng Johannesburg. It was love at first bite! Since then I have always wanted to have Ethiopian cuisine in Ethiopia.

In 2019 I made a solo trip to Addis Abba, the Ethiopian capital. I visited the Food Zone restaurant and sat at the bar because as a solo traveler, the barman is your first best friend. I ordered a St. George beer on tap and asked for the menu.

After spending 5 minutes deciphering hieroglyphs, I settled on half a kilogram of grilled beef. 15 minutes later; this thing of beauty settles itself on my table.


This Axum tower of meat, crisply grilled to perfection on the outside, medium-rare on the inside, its spiced aroma wafting through the air as it still cooks in its princely tower. The grilled meat is served with raw cubed steaks, a healthy helping of injera, and a delicate spice that gives you the same sensation as wasabi.

I took one look at this feast and knew there was no point in any pleasantries like using a fork or knife. I washed my hands and got to work deconstructing the tower starting at its base. I tore some injera, filled it with raw steak, seasoned it with spice, and then dipped it into the wasabi tasting sauce. I swallowed the excess saliva from my excited mouth before biting down on my hand-made wrap.

The flavors put on an impressive show in my mouth as the slightly sour injera playfully teased the sides of my tongue while the soft texture of steak parted like the red sea in my mouth. I reached for the grilled meat and let out a low moan as the freshly grilled flavour of beef reminded me of every barbecue I have ever been to in my life.

The conveniently cut little pieces of meat (crunchy at the edges and soft at the center) invites the next piece into my mouth then the next. I oblige, until 15 minutes later I am lulled into a flavor-induced semi-comatose state, looking at an empty platform where the Axum tower of meat once stood.

It takes all my will not to order another one. Somehow I don’t feel like I would survive it. I look longingly at the remaining skeleton and promised that I will be back for another one tomorrow. When it comes to food… I keep my word.

I love Ethiopian cuisine.

Ethiopian food first-timers ordering guide

Here are a few terms you need to know if you are planning to go try Ethiopian cuisine

Injera

Spongy, crepe-like bread atop which dishes are served. Also a utensil—use it to pinch small bites of food.

Wat

A rich stew, often including hunks of lamb or beef (or, in doro wat, chicken and egg).

Tibs

A stir-fry of meat, onions, and chilies and a gateway dish for newbies.

Kitfo

A mound of raw chopped beef mixed with spiced butter. You can request that it be cooked, but it’s best left raw.

Timatim

A cold salad of tomatoes and jalapeño, often added as a garnish.

Kik Alicha

A meatless stew of yellow split peas and onions.

Berbere

A spice blend containing red pepper and more than a dozen other seasonings that’s used across the cuisine.

wot

The Ethiopian version of a curry. similar to the wat but spicier.

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