Want to learn about Ethiopian food? Looking for Ethiopian recipes? Read Saba Alemayoh and Yohanis Gebreyesus' guides below. Now discover how to cook Omani food like a local.


Saba Alemayoh's guide to Ethiopian cuisine

Saba is a cookbook author and restaurateur who was born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents. Saba opened an eponymous restaurant in Melbourne's Fitzroy, where she worked front of house while her mother, Tekebash Gebre cooked the food of her homeland. Saba is also a regular on ABC radio in Australia. Her debut cookbook, Tekebash & Saba: Recipes from the Horn of Africa (£22, Murdoch Books), is out now.

Located in the northernmost state of Ethiopia, Tigray’s cuisine has very much been influenced by faith and availability. 95 percent of Tegaru are Orthodox Christians – as part of this we practise Lent and other fasting periods, eating exclusively vegan meals 180-210 days of the year. Meat and veg are not seen as the backbone of meals here, nor is the idea of a three-course meal complete with dessert.

That is not to say that food is only about sustenance in Tigray. It is revered in its own right, like music and dance, and there are entire events around the preparation of food. For large celebrations everyone comes together to peel tonnes of onions and make litres of honey wine. Women are allocated to the coffee station, and some are simply invited to provide entertainment with sentences that always start with ‘Remember...’.

Tigray’s cuisine has three essential recipes that form the building blocks for most dishes: injera (a fermented flatbread), tesmi (spiced butter) and berbere or dilik (powdered chilli mixture or paste). Injera, which also doubles as a utensil with which we eat stews, is usually made with a grain called teff, which is one of the earliest grains to be cultivated in Tigray – as early as the third millennium BC. This hearty superfood is drought-resistant and relatively easy to grow in the mountainous lands of Tigray, although today many Tegaru make injera with self-raising flour instead.

More like this

Saba Alemayoh's recipes

Ethiopian dorho sebhi

Discover the rich flavours of the Tigray region of Ethiopia with this chilli-spiked chicken and egg stew.

Large pot of chicken and eggs in a brown sauce

Ethiopian salata dakwa

This Ethiopian dish is great to complement spicy dishes, due to the creamy nature of the peanut butter. You can also add hard-boiled eggs and have it as a salad in its own right.

Mixing bowl of salad with a wooden spoon next to a bowl of lemon wedges and a bowl of dressing

Ethiopian dilik

This chilli spice paste is fundamental to Tigray cuisine. Recipe author Saba recommends making this recipe in bulk as it stores well, but you can reduce the quantity if you prefer.

Bowls full of colourful spices

Yohanis Gebreyesus's guide to Ethiopian cuisine

Yohanis Gebreyesus trained in Lyon and worked as a chef in California before opening a restaurant in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. His cookbook, Ethiopia (£30, Kyle Books) is out now.

Food is seen as feeding the soul, as well as the body, in many different cultures. In Ethiopia, however, it fulfils another, distinct, purpose – it conveys positive human energy. This is manifested in a powerful local saying, ‘enebla’. In Amharic, the country’s official language, enebla translates as ‘let us eat’ but it is also an invitation to share and show respect for one another.

For instance, Ethiopia’s staple food, injera – a spongy, gluten-free flatbread that (literally) forms the base of most meals, with food placed directly on it instead of a plate – is used in a way that invites more than one pair of hands to a meal. Manipulating injera is sometimes dubbed ‘dancing with fingers’ (guests apply the flatbread over stews then dip and roll it to form a ‘goursha’ – an injera bite that combines various stews, or ‘wat’, from a platter).

Yet despite this commonality there is also great diversity. Ethiopia is large and the country’s cuisine is influenced by its distinct climates and geography. From the Danakil Depression of Afar (more than 120 metres below sea level) to the high plateaus that cover two-thirds of the country, Ethiopia’s different landscapes produce different ingredients. The terrain also generates knowledge that helps communities, whether that’s using goat skin to cool water in Afar or burning specific plants to extract edible salt in Gambela.

Ethiopia was never colonised but the legacy of trading with Asian and Middle Eastern countries, particularly Yemen, added spices to its dishes. Occupation by the Italians in the 1930s is another factor that has shaped the food. For the most part, however, Ethiopian cuisine has largely been left alone, its staple recipes handed down from one generation to the next.

The country is also, of course, one of the world’s largest coffee-producing countries (it is where the coffea arabica plant originates). Yet Ethiopia exports less than half of what it grows. Coffee is drunk copiously across the country and, in a sign of enebla, never alone. ‘Buna tetu’ – ‘come drink coffee’ – is a communal tradition.

Yohanis' Ethiopian recipes

Nigella-glazed roast chicken with black and white sesame seeds

Yohanis shares his Ethiopian-style roast chicken. He says: “This modern take on roast chicken highlights one of Ethiopia’s signature spices, nigella. Cooks often use ground nigella seeds in stews that also contain the berbere spice blend. However, when used as the dominant seasoning, nigella’s nutty, earthy notes take centre stage and combine sublimely with black and white sesame seeds.”

Ethiopian Chicken Recipe by Yohanis Gebreyesus

What to eat in Ethiopia

Asa lebleb

Popular in Arba Minch, a town about 300 miles southwest of Addis Ababa, this quick fish dish is full of snappy flavours and textures. Asa means ‘fish’ and lebleb means ‘lightly cooked’ (a reference to the vegetables, which should be crunchy).

Ethiopia Asa lebleb

Ful medames

Mashed fava or broad beans might be the national dish of Egypt but it is also hugely popular for breakfast in Ethiopia. In the Middle East it often comes garnished with olive oil, parsley, lemon and garlic but in Ethiopia it gets mashed into onions and topped with eggs, yogurt and chopped jalapeños.

FUL MEDAMES breakfast ethiopia

Beg siga wat

A popular dish to prepare on religious festivities or birthdays, this spicy lamb stew traditionally uses pieces from both the front and rear legs of the animal.

Beg Siga Wat Ethiopia

Duba wat

Pumpkin (duba) is grown, and sold, across the country. This spicy stew is usually served as part of a spread of vegetable dishes but also makes an excellent side dish for chicken, meat or fish.

Ethiopia Duba Wat


These barley flour bars are often referred to as ‘local chocolate’ but don’t expect them to be sweet (this is a cuisine virtually free of sugar). Some cooks like to add cardamom, cloves or black pepper.

Ethiopia chicko

Words by Yohanis Gebreyesus. Photographs by Peter Cassidy. Buy Ethiopia here (£30, Kyle Books).

Comments, questions and tips

Choose the type of message you'd like to post

Choose the type of message you'd like to post