11 Mar Ethiopia: The most vegan friendly country in the world
One of the best parts of traveling is always the food. Just like pasta is better in Italy and wine is better in France, the best way to experience authentic Ethiopian cuisine is to travel to ancient Abyssinia.
While Ethiopian food is slowly gaining traction around the world, fans still represent a small underground minority. One of the reasons for slow growth is the challenges of preparing Ethiopian food abroad. The main staple of the country, injera, has yet to be successfully replicated. While it might fool some diners, anyone who has tasted the true taste of injera in Ethiopia knows that anywhere else is just not the same.
Every Ethiopian is a Vegan (at some point)
While not every Ethiopian is vegan all the time, many travelers are surprised to discover that Ethiopia is by far the most vegan-friendly country in the world. While some excellent meat dishes do exist, the majority of the country enjoys vegan food on a regular basis. In fact, due to the Ethiopian Orthodox church, Christians enter “fasting season” for all of lent.
The fasting season is characterized by consuming no animal products– essentially only vegan food with the exception of fish and honey being allowed. Besides lent, the church regularly holds other fasting days before holidays and also mandates that every Wednesday and Friday be fasting as well.
What this means for travelers, is that no matter when you come, there will also be a “fasting menu” available.
Health Vegan Options
Not only is so much of the cuisine vegetarian, but it is also very healthy.
Most of the Ethiopian dishes are: naturally organic, gluten-free, contain teff grain (a superfood), and are fresh from the farm.
Ethiopian Dishes, Family and Community
Food is more than a biological necessity in Ethiopia. In fact, it is one major aspect of the countries’ unique social culture that is really special. In Ethiopia, food is a cultural meetup. It is a way for family, friends, and communities to come together and catch up.
Besides coffee, food is the next best thing that facilitates the closely-knit Ethiopian communities. In fact, there is a strong saying you might hear once or twice a day in Ethiopia. It goes “Bichawin yebela, bichawin yimotal,” which roughly translates to, “You eat alone, then you die alone.”
The King – Injera
Injera is the staple food of Ethiopia. It is a soft, spongy, thin bread-like pancake that serves as a regular companion for all the dishes. Injera is made from the finely milled Teff flour. Teff grain is off the charts in iron and also high in calcium, magnesium, essential amino acids, and manganese. Teff grain comes in a natural ivory and a brown color. They taste the same although the brown has slightly more iron.
Beware, Injera might taste sour by itself, but it is perfect with the right spicy Ethiopian sauces and dishes. Mostly, injera is never eaten by itself. Rather it is like a vehicle for all the dishes below. Almost always, the dishes are served with injera and you use it to scoop up the stews. Hence, injera is not only a food but also a spoon in Ethiopia. As a result, the way you eat injera has its own etiquette, which should be fun to learn. (Hint, only use your right hand to eat and touch injera).
The Queen: Berbere Spice
If injera is the King of Ethiopian food, what is the queen? What makes Ethiopian food unique and truly special, is the delicious and healthy seasoning. Ethiopian spices are the queen of Ethiopian cooking, with the most popular being, Berbere (pronounced ber-berry). Berbere is actually a mixture of 10+ spices. It is slightly spicy and has a deep rich flavor.
10 Perfect Vegan (Fasting) Dishes
Shiro (pronounced Sheer-o) is the equivalent of America’s peanut butter jelly sandwich. It’s the dish everyone has had a thousand times and is a comforting, familiar, and easy to make dish.
Shiro is made from chickpea flour and berbere spice. Served along with injera, it is the most widely devoured food in Ethiopia. Interestingly, shiro comes in different styles. There is the thick almost doughy kind, the thin runny one, the one made over a fire, and another made over the stove. All our delicious.
This savory stew is made from lentils and berbere. Like most stews here, the cooking starts by mixing garlic, ginger, berbere, and oil in a hot pan. Then the lentils are simmered and boiled in the mix and it results in a lovely, colorful red lentil stew.
Miser has another variety, where the lentils still have their cover and are made with turmeric. They taste very different and both are worth a try.
Timatim Gored Gored
With Timatim Gored Gored, you find the simplest Ethiopian vegan dish. If you want to learn to cook great Ethiopian food, this is the start. Timatim Gored Gored is heated sliced tomatoes with some spices.
Kik is halfly crushed small beans and Alecha is a term used to refer to the yellow kind of dishes that are made with turmeric instead of berbere. Hence, Alecha Kik is crushed beans made with tumeric and other Ethiopian spices. It’s great for those who do not enjoy spicy food.
Gomen is collard greens chopped into tiny pieces and made by either frying or boiling with spices. Gomen is a delicious vegan food that is loved by everyone.
Dinech Wot is potatoes simmered into garlic, ginger, onion and Berbere mix. It is a reddish looking, deliciously healthy option. Just like the other dishes, it can also be made yellowish with Tumeric. Another dish similar is called, “Duba Wat” which is made with pumpkin instead of potatoes. Unfortunately, most Ethiopian do not care for pumpkin. But if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to try it at least once.
Azifa is lentil salad. It is boiled and cooled lentils mixed with onion and green papers, with a pinch of lemon, salt, and black paper. Azifa is easy for your stomach and another healthy simple dish.
Hilbet is a special northern food that you might not find in every restaurant and family in Ethiopia. One of the reasons is because it takes a lot of work. Hilbet is a mix of beans and fenugreek spice. It takes time and a good mixer to make. It has a mild flavor and is traditionally served with a berbere and tomato sauce.
Sineg isn’t a dish in itself, it is a sliced opened green pepper with onion and tomato salad inside it. It’s not for the faint at heart, but anyone who loves a good spicy kick will enjoy taking bites of it.
Beyayinetu is a mix of all types of fasting foods served on one dish. Most of the time, it includes Shiro Wot, Miser Wot, Gomen and Dinich. Some restaurants and families include even more of a variety. If you want to experience all Ethiopian foods at once, Beyayinetu is the option for you.