Ethiopia

Price guide:

6 ETB - Cup of coffee

8-12 ETB - Soft drink: Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite, 7 Up, Mirinda or Pepsi

10-15 ETB - Juice

15-20 ETB - Dessert

20-30 ETB - Breakfast

70 ETB - Coffee, 1 kilogram

60 ETB - Pizza, hamburger, fish 'n chips or spaghetti

50 ETB - Asian or African restaurant

20-30 ETB - Injera with all kind of wot

80-200 ETB - Cake

150 ETB plus - the most elegant and luxury restaurants

Injera is Ethiopia's national dish. It is a spongy, tangy-tasting sourdough made from the grain teff, which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia. It is baked in the form of giant thin pancakes, then often rolled up and sliced to hand-sized portions. It is eaten with wot or wat, traditional stews made with spices and meat or legumes. Some popular wats are doro chicken wat, yebeg lamb wat and asa fish wat.

The injera sits directly on a large round plate or tray and is covered with wat placed symmetrically around a central item. The various wats are eaten with other pieces of injera, which are served on a side plate. Injera is eaten with the right hand - rip a large piece of injera from the side plate and use it to pick up one of the various flavours of wat on the main platter.

Do not eat with your left hand! In Ethiopia food is a respected gift from God and eating with your left hand is a sign of disrespect.

Another popular injera dish is firfir: fried, shredded injera. It can be served with or without meat or with all sorts of veggies.

If you prefer vegetarian foods, try the shiro wat, which is a vegetable stew served with injera. Most times you have to specifically ask for it as it doesn't come with most of the combinations, as Ethiopians prefer meat.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church mandates a large number of "fast days" during the year - officially more than 180 days annually, including a 56 day fast during the Orthodox Lent. During these periods, the observant are required to eat no meat, only vegetarian food.

In large tourist restaurants in Addis and in predominately Muslim areas, you will find the fasting period has no impact on the food available to you. But in smaller restaurants, including in tourist venues like Lalibela and Axum, a tourist will be handed an English language menu full of chicken and meat options - but when attempting to order those items, will be told they are not available, and given the option of "fasting food." The result will be a very tasty injera plate with 3-6 vegetable and legume wats, including lentils, spinach/greens and similar items. While this can be frustrating to carnivores, and the be served the same "fasting food" for days on end can become tiresome, it makes Ethiopia much more vegetarian friendly. When a vegetarian is having trouble communicating their dietary needs, a good strategy is to ask for "fasting food," a concept that is nearly universally understood.

Another popular dish is tibbs or tibs, spicy beef fried in butter. It can be either really bad burnt to a crisp and resembling petrified wood or juicy and delicious in more fancy restaurants. The Holiday Hotel in Addis serves delicious tibbs.

Kitfo is minced meat, spiced with chili. You can have it raw the locally preferred way, but there's a risk of getting tape worm, leb-leb lightly cooked or fully cooked. It comes with a local cheese ayeb and a spinach.

For the pickier traveler, almost every place in Ethiopia also serves spaghetti thanks to the short lived Italian occupation. In nice restaurants in Addis you can find excellent spaghetti and lasagna try the Blue Tops or Top View restaurants, and in the more peripheral places you will usually find it overcooked with bland tomato paste as sauce. Ethiopians - especially in smaller towns - will often turn the bowl of spaghetti on top of a plate of injera and wats, and use injera to scoop up both the spaghetti and the spicy stews.