Monday, August 01, 2005

Food Connections - Ethiopian Food

This is to in continuation of the mini-series that I had written earlier on the connections of various cuisines to others ... Below are the links to the previous relevant posts.


This time I am writing about Ethiopian cuisine (At Vayam's suggestion !).

Ethiopia is the only African nation that was not colonized by European colonial forces. It was briefly occupied by the Italians between 1936 and 1941. In terms of food connections, there is a large degree of influence by Indian cuisine and to a lesser extent by Italian cuisine.

Injera, a flat, sourdough pancake made of the indigenous grain called t'ef, is the country staple. The injera is typically served with either meat or vegetable sauces. Injera has been prepared since at least 100 B.C

The t'ef flour is mixed with water to form a dough and kneaded by hand. A leaven (ersho) is added. The leaven can be obtained in different ways, for example, a small amount of the previous enjera dough may be saved for the next dough or the bowl may be left uncleaned after the dough is made and the small quantity left will be sufficient for leavening.

This process is very similar to the process used to produce the batter for dosas/uthapams. And indeed, Injera is very similar to dosa, but its baked, not toasted.

Wot and Alicha, which are the staple side-dishes are very similar to Indian curries. Spices play an important role in most countries in Asia and Africa, and Ethiopia is no exception. Some of the spices are grown in Ethiopia, either cultivated or wild, and others are imported, mainly from India.

And there’s an Ethiopian appetizer called a sambusa, which consists of ground spiced vegetables or meat in a deep fried triangle of dough ... This is very similar to the "samosa", the Indian appetizer which consists of ground spiced vegetables or meat in a triangle of dough, deep-fried.

Another connection is with Italian food, drink, and culture, since Ethiopia was an Italian colony. There are usually a variety of espresso drinks on the menu in Ethiopian restaurants.

And of course, Ethiopia is the country of origin of coffee.

However, there are several non-food connections between India and Ethiopia, that are quite fascinating ! (Source: The Guardian)

Interestingly, Bollywood movies are immensely popular among Ethiopian youth and Indians walking down the streets of Addis Ababa have been greeted with "Namastes" !

India and Ethiopia, have had a long history of trade with import of Indian cloth and spices and export to India of gold and ivory (The African elephant has larger tusks than the Asian elephant)

Ethiopian slaves, known as Hapshi, were exported to India too, where they became concubines and palace guards and of course, palace guards, sooner or later seized power which gave rise to Hapshi dynasties in Gujarat, Bengal and Goa.

Indians were brought to Ethiopia for their technical skills. According to one account, it was an Indian architect who built the first castle in Gondar, a former capital.

Like other east African countries, Ethiopia once had a substantial Indian business community. That changed after the attempt on the life of the Italian fascist viceroy, Graziani, in 1937.
The fascists massacred Ethiopians in reprisal and a rumour circulated that the plot had been conceived in the shop of Mohammed Ali, the principal Indian merchant. All the Indians were expelled.

Traces of the Indian influence survive in Ethiopia's national language, Amharic. The word for tobacco, for example, is "surat", the name of the Gujarati city from which it was brought.

How wide spread the influence of India has been ... And how largely benign .....


Blogger ammani said...


Good one. Here's a recipe for lentil wott, slightly Indianised.


Mon Aug 01, 01:52:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Ideamani said...

Hi Ammani, thanks for dropping by. Nice recipe, thanks.

Mon Aug 01, 06:31:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Rashmi Bansal said...

Wow, the word Ethopian and cuisine somehow seems like an oxymoron. I did always wonder though what might be their staple diet. No Ethopian restaurants in India yet !

Mon Aug 01, 01:02:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Ideamani said...

Rashmi, inspite of the fact that Ethiopia is a starving country, their cuisine is extremely rich - There are also large scale feasts that are mandatory by custom - Quite similar to India actually - Feasts, the bane of poor Indian families !

Mon Aug 01, 02:22:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the post became too long, so i sent a mail to

Tue Aug 02, 10:28:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous habesha said...


There is very *little* connection between Ethiopian food and indian food. You'll especially realize this if you prepare a full Ethioipan meal from scratch (hint : onions!).

Teff, which is what makes and breaks an Ethiopian meal (at least the 'Ethiopian', as recognized by the Diaspora) only grwos in Ethiopia (and small quantities in Ohio, US, for the minute nutrition and organic consious consumers) . Again, this cerea/grass bears no resemblance to Indian food, be it dosa, chapati ...

The sambusa, if it should be likened to any other cuisine, then it should be to that of middle eastern cuisine, where similar dishes are called ...drumroll ... sambusa(k), and not Samosa as in India. The content of Ethiopian an Sambusa is like that of its middle eastern counsin. Sambusas are usually (obviously!) made in muslim communities.

Indian movies were polularized in Ethiopia during the communist government. Western movies were banned and the country only had access to either Russian junk, or bollywood dancing. And bollywood dancing it was.

The Habshi were not slaves. It is an 'easy' explanation people gave unpon discovery of the Habshi in India - surely, if Africans came to India it must have been as slaves. Well, not quite. Ethiopia, at the Habshi time of cross-Indian ocean trade, was a strong Empire which extended beyond the African continent into what are now parts of middle eastern states. Here's a book on the habshi:

Tue Aug 22, 03:50:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous habesha said...

Oh, and btw, the word for 'tobacco' in Amharic is 'timbaho'. Tobacco was not introduced to the Amharic speaking population until the advent of Europeans, epsecially in the 20th century. Ethiopia still remains one of the worlds least somocking nations. There are, however, traditionally smocking (non-Amhara/ic) populations in southern parts of the country.

Tue Aug 22, 04:29:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Rigved said...

I recently tried Ethiopian cuisine and I must say I was surprised with the striking similarities to Indian cuisine. I simply loved the food :-). Also got to know about similarities between Indian and Ethiopian cultures. Quite interesting.

Sat Apr 18, 11:55:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous ProudEthiopian said...

I'm sorry, but Ethiopia was not colonized by Italy. Ethiopia won this failed attempt in the Battle of Adwa, although, that's not to say that some culture hadn't rubbed off on them. Please get your facts and research straight, you ignorant motherfucker.

Fri Aug 07, 04:07:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, Rashmi "an oxymoron" that's not right.

Tue Jan 12, 01:16:00 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks heaps for this i really needed some imformation about these exacted ethiopian foods and it has helped a lot. i found it very interesting reading about it as i know very little about ethiopian cuisine.

Sun May 09, 02:29:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Son of David said...

The flavor in Ethiopian food is only matched by their classic Christian art. Angels from the Hebrew Bible mix with Celtic Book Of Kells animation flowing in proud African independent faces. Hints of Krishna glow in the fom of many figures.Here in America their are many wonderful Ethiopian restaurants and they are a delight.I understand why my people's legendary king Solomon fell in love with an Ethiopian queen!

Mon May 10, 12:58:00 AM EDT  

Post a Comment

<< Home