A brief history of veganism in Ethiopia
At its core, veganism in Ethiopia stems from a centuries-old practice promoted by the Ethiopian church.
Unlike fasting in other religions, the weekly fasts observed by Ethiopian Christians call for practitioners to abstain from all animal products every Wednesday and Friday, and in the run-up to all religious festivities.
These days were chosen in observance of the decision of the Sanhedrin, in collaboration with Judas Iscariot, to betray and kill Jesus before the feast of Pesach.
From tangy flatbreads to thick curries and refreshing salads, Ethiopia Vegan food is as varied as the country, with dishes changing from region to region.
A Trypophobia's nightmare, the holey bread is made using a fermented grain mixed with water and then fried.
Often appearing as a side dish, this soured bread is an acquired taste, but complements many of the hottest Ethiopian dishes well, balancing out the spice.
Dishes are usually served on a single communal plate, called Yetsom Beyaynetu, with mountainous piles of Injera soaking up the spicy sauces and tangy relishes.
The components that makeup Yetsom Beyanetu change from region to region, but whether in the foothills of the Bale Mountains or the spiritual hub of Gondar, it's always delicious and is considered a staple across the country.
Spices & Curries
Often found in the Ethiopian curries, the berbere spice mix is a staple seasoning.
A mix of hot red peppers and spices such as garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika, the spice is often added to spicy red sauces and stews. Berbere can also be used in dressings or as a tableside condiment.
One of the most famous dishes from the county is Shiro Wat. A thick, creamy paste - almost like a chilly laced curried hummus - it is often served alongside curries.
A few of the most common curries include Misir Wat and Kik Alicha. Misir Wat is made by slow cooking red lentils in turmeric fused, berbere spice mix.
Kik Alicia is made using a very similar process, just with yellow split peas. Alongside the curries, Gomen (collard greens fried with garlic) is often served, and possibly some other mixed veggies like cabbage and carrots.
For those in search of something lighter, FitFit is considered a lighter meal, usually served by making stew and snipping injera in, soaking up the stew, creating a brown viscous soup, which is usually dished up with a berbere garnish.
Two of the best vegan beverages in Ethiopia? Coffee and avocado juice.
Ethiopia is famous for being the birthplace of coffee, and no trip to Addis Ababa is complete without a stop-off at Tomoca, the cities most renowned coffee shop.
A fundamental part of Ethiopian culture, you're never far from freshly roasting coffee here. Coffee ceremonies are common in Ethiopia, similar to the tea ceremonies common across Asia.
Avocado juice is common across the country. It’s served mixed with other fresh tropical fruits, such as mango, papaya or watermelon. The juice is avocado blended to a soft-serve consistency, and is a surprisingly refreshing delicacy (the avocado juice at Gheralta Lodge comes highly recommended!).
For those looking for something stronger, a range of traditional alcoholic beverages can be found too. Although not consumed during periods of fasting, Ethiopia is renowned for its honey brewed wines (Tej), best enjoyed within the makeshift bars found in many rural Ethiopian towns.
A far cry from the mimicked meats and stuffed peppers that usually constitute the few vegan options on offer in many eateries across Europe, Ethiopian food is an interesting example of how vegan cuisine can be full of flavour without simply churning out copycats versions of fast-food classics. Although many sects in countless societies have promoted and adhered to plant-based diets, none have done this more so than Ethiopia, and this reflects in the quality and variety of food on offer.
Luca Fierro Music Journalist & Vegan