As soon as I landed in Ethiopia this past June, I was ready to eat. First, I had to shower and get briefed on all the archaeological ongoings prior to my arrival, but I had a list of food that I wanted to consume during my 10-day research trip to the Tigray region. I love Ethiopian food and there are some special food items that only taste right if I eat them in Ethiopia. This post lists, pictures, and describes the four things I definitely wanted to have as soon as I stepped on the plane.
1. Avocado Juice
In many Ethiopian towns there will be a juice shop. Some offer many juices like mango, papaya, watermelon, etc. and you can request a variety of combinations layered on top of one another called ‘spris’. My experiences with juice shops in Enticho, Adwa, Adigrat, and Aksum have proven that you can usually get an avocado juice during the summer even if the overall juice selection is somewhat minimal. Keep in mind that the availability of fruits is definitely seasonal. Avocado juice is more like a thick, creamy, fluffy smoothie, that is sweetened with sugar. Sometimes a tablespoon of water is added (you can nicely ask your juice maker to use bottled water you provide). Anywhere from three to five avocados go into most juices I’ve consumed. Sometimes a pure avocado juice is a bit much for people, so a mix of half mango and half avocado (spris!) is ordered instead. Many juices are served with lime, especially if they contain mango and sometimes people opt to add Vimto cordial fruit syrup as well. I’m a purist, so it’s just avocados, sugar, and a bit of water for me.
Given my stomach’s sensitivity, indulging in traditional Ethiopian coffee, known as buna, can’t be a daily activity. Buna is black coffee at its best. It’s dark, bitter, but smooth, and will keep you up all night if you have the recommended three cups in one sitting. Macchiatos are a great alternative. Macchiatos likely entered Ethiopian cuisine during Italian occupation and the Ethiopians have made this beverage their own. Ethiopian macchiatos consist of buna poured over steamed frothed milk and sugar can be added as you like. If you want to go local, add a lot of sugar. It’s a warm, rich beverage that gives me my coffee fix.
3. Tegamino (Shiro)
Photo Credit: G. Admasu
Shiro wat is a vegetarian dish that consists of dried, powdered chickpeas (sometimes other legumes) mixed with spices, often berbere (Ethiopian spice mix), and some water. It’s flavorful, creamy, and the ultimate Ethiopian comfort food. When shiro is served in a small clay pot, it is often called tegamino in the areas I work in. I like the clay pot because I’m one those people who likes to have slightly burned, crispy bits in my food. For many of my fellow archaeologists, shiro evokes a lot of memories and feelings. By the end or middle of a season, you feel like you can’t eat anymore. You go home and you think, “I can’t have shiro ever again!” After a couple months you go to an Ethiopian restaurant where you’re living and you feel conflicted if you see it on the menu and confused if it’s not there. Shiro is usually everywhere in Ethiopia and if an Ethiopian restaurant doesn’t have it or if it’s not part of the vegetarian platter, something feels off. If it’s there, some of us break and order it, while others hold off. By the time we’re back in Ethiopia, we’re usually happy eating it again and some of us (me!) look forward to having it.
Injera is a spongy, slightly sour, fermented Ethiopian bread that resembles a slightly thick crepe or Indian dosa. It’s served cold (trust me, it’s not so tasty warm) with many Ethiopian dishes served right on top of it. I love eating injera in Ethiopia because t’ef is used. T’ef is a tiny grain that is highly nutritious (includes calcium, Vitamin C, iron, and more!), gluten-free, low in fat, and delicious. I gave a talk in 2014 about Aksumite food production and in discussing t’ef I predicted it might be one of the next superfoods. T’ef grains are grounded into a flour, which is then used to make injera. Outside of Ethiopia, many restaurants use wheat flour for injera. This could be because t’ef flour is hard to find; however, I recently saw it for sale (at an exorbitant, laughable price) at a local organic store here in Frankfurt, Germany. Wheat injera doesn’t have the same nutty depth as t’ef injera, which is why it’s one of my must have foods when I arrive.
There are so many other great foods to eat and drink in Ethiopia and the above list is usually what I crave when I’m not there. This list is not only influenced by taste, but by many memories and experiences. In a future post I will outline some more foods to try if you find yourself in Ethiopia.