Prior to writing this blog, I didn’t know much about Ethiopian food, but I knew it was messy and that you ate it with your hands and that was enough to terrify me. Immensely. Let’s be honest, I’m the girl who packed silverware in her purse for a trip to Medieval Times, but this weekend I put aside my fears and took the plunge. And I’m so glad I did. It was different than anything I had ever tried and absolutely delicious. If you’ve ever eaten a plate full of nachos with friends, if you are a fan of Indian food, if you like robust flavor combinations and crave a loaf of sourdough bread every now and then, if you don’t mind the mess of a gyro and go gaga for those adorable little wetnaps restaurants sometimes hand out then read on…this bite’s for you!

Family Style

Dining in Ethiopia is characterized by the breaking of injera (hold on, we’ll get there) and eating from the same plate, signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship.  Your meal is served on a large platter lined with injera and you share the platter with your party. I know, I know…sounds a little intimidating, right? But it really wasn’t any more invasive than sharing a plate of nachos with a group. You pull the bread and scoop, making little crepe-ish bitefulls of lentils, meat, veggies – whatever is on your platter, and then you eat it. See, that wasn’t so bad!

Injera is central to the dining ritual and probably my number one fear going into this. I had heard words like “spongy” and “stretchy” used to describe this stuff and it was all I could do to not pack my trusty travel utensils along for the journey. See that beigy looking layer on the platter in the picture above? Yup, that’s it. The meal comes served with a separate platter of injera but you can also eat the layer under your food as you go. Injera is large flatbread that is soft like a thin pancake and tastes like a loaf of sourdough bread. Yes, the texture is a little spongy, but think soft pita or crepe, not Sham-Wow.

Sambusa –Thin dough shells stuffed with minced meat or vegetables. GET THESE. They’re little triangles of fried goodness. We sampled the chicken and spinach varieties but I’m sure the beef or lentil options would have been equally delicious. Sambusas taste similar to an Indian samosa or a Mexican empanada. In short…they’re delicious.

Main courses

Wat (watt or wot) – the staple of Ethiopian menus, wats are very thick stews that include onions, spices and vegetables or meat.

Tibs – One of the most popular options on an Ethiopian menu, tibs are cubed pieces of meat (chicken, beef, or lamb) sautéed with garlic, onions and peppers then often mixed with spices and sauce. I tried the Doro Tibs Watt and it was great. I highly recommend this option. It was on the spicier side and had very similar flavors to several Indian dishes.

Kifto – Another common meat dish in Ethiopian culture, kifto is raw or rare ground marinated beef. We tried kifto in the dish, Kifto Na Gomen, which is kifto, collard greens and cheese. It was much less flavorful than the Doro Watt but still had a very unique flavor. The whole concept of ground beef tartare was a little difficult to get behind, but it was definitely worth a try.

If you’re a vegetarian there are plenty of options for you! Lentils and chickpeas are very common in Ethiopian dishes, as are potatoes and carrots. Our platter came with the two meat dishes we ordered as well as a red lentil stew and a potato/carrot mixture. You can choose spicy or mild seasonings and dress the dishes up or down as you desire.

Ethiopia is the birth place of coffee and one sip of this ceremonial drink proves why. We’re not talking about a diner cup and saucer filled with specialty coffee – no way. My coffee was served in a ceremonial pitcher with a miniature cup similar to those used in Japanese tea ceremonies. The coffee was rich and strong and an altogether lovely addition to the experience. If you’re a caffeine/coffee consumer, be sure to try this special Ethiopian treat.

So folks, I survived. The road was a little bumpy, but the end results were well worth the journey. Whether you try Ethiopian food for the first time or give one of our other FirstBites a chance, we hope you’ll let us help you expand your palate one plate at a time. What’s the most exotic food you’ve ever tried? Share it below!

FirstBites shares pictures, thoughts and advice about the foods and flavors you’ve always wanted to try. Hungry for more? Check out our guides to tapassushiIndian food, brunch, Irish food and Mexican food!