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Ethiopian Food Glossary

Injera, Berbere, Wat: A Guide to Ethiopian Food

This may come as a surprise, but if we had to eat one cuisine for the rest of our lives, my pick would be Ethiopian. There's something incredibly natural about the act of eating with one's hands, and the spiced, slow-cooked, home style preparations.

But to someone who's not familiar with East African cuisine, deciphering an Ethiopian recipe or the menu at an Eritrean restaurant can be sort of like trying to understand hieroglyphics in the year 2011. Continue reading to get to know a few staples of Ethiopian cooking.


  • Alicha: spiced but mild stew that is often vegetarian and free of berbere.
  • Ayib: mild cottage cheese that's often used to top other dishes.
  • Kitfo: finely chopped beef, seasoned with clarified butter and mitmita; often served raw, as the last dish of the meal.
  • Injera: soft, stretchy, crepe-like flatbread, made of sourdough starter and teff, then cooked until bubbly on a wood-fired clay griddle. Used as a utensil to pick up other dishes that are eaten by hand.
  • Sambusa: triangular, deep-fried pastry stuffed with beef, chicken, or vegetables.
  • Tej: Ethiopian honey wine, brewed from raw honeycomb and hops.
  • Tibs: a dish with cubed, cut beef or lamb.
  • Tella: homemade Ethiopian beer brewed from barley, finger millet, and hops
  • Wat: Ethiopia's signature spiced stew, made with vegetables, fish, chicken, lamb, or beef.
  • Ye'abesha gomen: collard greens cooked in a spiced butter with cardamom, fenugreek, and nigella seeds.


  • Awaze: red pepper paste made from ginger, nutmeg, cloves, onions, thyme, cinnamon, garlic, and red chile peppers that've been toasted and formed into a paste; adds heat to meat, seafood, and bread.
  • Berbere: spice mix used heavily in Ethiopian cooking; made of toasted, dried red chile peppers, ginger, garlic, cardamom, onions, cloves, cinnamon, basil, and salt.
  • Nit'r kibae: clarified butter mixed with black cardamom, fenugreek, nigella seeds, and other various spices; a basic ingredient in the preparation of most Ethiopian dishes.
  • Mitmita: very hot chili powder with spices, made from crushed African bird's eye chile, cardamom, and salt.
  • Teff: A small but hardy, gluten-free, rye-like grain indigenous to Ethiopia; used to make flour for injera.

Are you a fan of Ethiopian and Eritrean food?

Source: Flickr Users SweetOnVeg and brookpeterson

Around The Web
Join The Conversation
GummiBears GummiBears 5 years
I have been to a popular Ethiopian restaurant in Chicago called the Ethiopian Diamond and I loved the food. The service could be better but what can you do? First time I have some East African/Horn cuisine.
LukeZ LukeZ 5 years
Susannah, great article! It is very refreshing to read something good about Ethiopian food. Most people only know of it from lousy jokes ("Q - Have you ever had Ethiopian food? A - Well, neither have they!" or "What? You went to an Ethiopian restaurant? What did they serve, an empty plate?"). Thank you!
aytal aytal 5 years
hops is not used in the brewing of Tej or tella instead Gesho (Rhamnus prinoides) is used. "Tella is a malt beverage, like beer. Tej is a fermented beverage based on honey" -Abegaz et al
NLaBruiser NLaBruiser 5 years
Love it - there's a great place in Kansas City called 'Blue Nile' that I frequent. Highly recommended to anyone in the area.
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