A little history
Ethiopian cuisine has not been left untouched by certain non-indigenous ingredients over the centuries. Chilli peppers came from South America via Portugal, ginger from the Orient, and exotic spices were introduced during the times of trade with India. But because of the country’s landlocked position, encircled by a rim of high mountain peaks, Ethiopia has remained relatively uninfluenced by their neighbours and other countries. In food, this translates to dishes with unique flavours and combinations. Your palate will definitely expand with a visit to an Ethiopian restaurant.
Perhaps one of the most famous of Ethiopian foods, and certainly the most ubiquitous, injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread made out of teff flour. Teff is an ancient grain first cultivated in Ethiopia. It’s a very healthy grain that is high in protein, calcium and iron, and gluten-free. The slightly spongy, sour injera is used to scoop up the other foods that are served on top of the large, round flatbread. It’s a blessing for the senses that no cutlery is used. The sense of touch that lies dormant in Western culture, is activated and appreciated with a traditional Ethiopian meal.
While Muslim factions predominate in the country’s south, Christians in the north make up almost half of Ethiopia’s population. We know Muslims eat no pork, but Christians in Ethiopia eat no meat or animal products during almost 200 fasting days a year. Every week, Wednesdays and Fridays are meatless, while certain religious occasions throughout the year call for extended periods of fasting. Talk about veganism. By being flexitarian, Ethiopians are vegan not just for one month, but consistently throughout the whole year.
Addis is a family-owned restaurant in King’s Cross where the all-important injera, sauces, bread, and pates are produced on the premises. The homemade food is cooked with natural ingredients, while flavour enhancers and preservatives never find their way into the food. Every meal comes with vegetables and a basket of freshly baked bread. Make sure to check out their drinks menu – wine and beer are sourced from Ethiopia, amongst other countries.
Where? 40-42 Caledonian Rd, Kings Cross, London N1 9DT
Both Ethiopian and Eritrean
Merkato is one of those London restaurants that serve both Ethiopian and Eritrean dishes. Eritrea borders Ethiopia in the North and has direct access to the sea, which has allowed for more seafood and influences from other cultures and cuisines. Ottoman and Italian influences mean Eritrean food includes more pasta specials, curry powders, and cumin. Try Merkato’s Ga’at dish, a typical Eritrean porridge with clarified butter, spice mixture berbere, and yoghurt.
Where? 196 Caledonian Rd, Islington, London N1 0SQ
The first and only Ethiopian restaurant in the UK to specialise in traditional Ethiopian vegan food, Andu Café in Dalston is the logical choice for vegans. Choose between samplers and traditional platters, which includes an option for one. They consist of potato tikil gomen, spiced cabbage, spinach gomen, and an assortment of lentils and split peas. This pared down menu means each topping gets the attention it deserves.
Where? 528 Kingsland Rd, Dalston, London E8 4AH
Go for the coffee ceremony
The Queen of Sheba Restaurant
Head to The Queen of Sheba Restaurant for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Much like the Japanese tea ceremony, it is a mindful, special affair. Make sure to bring friends, because the focus here is on sharing dishes all served on a round injera the same size as the large tray you eat it from.
Where? 12 Fortess Rd, Kentish Town, London NW5 2EU
Go for the coffee
Another Dalston spot, Kaffa Coffee serves coffee, snacks, and homemade baked goods only during weekdays, but Thursday to Sunday you can enjoy lunch and dinner as well. The music playing is a selection of Ethiopian jazz and world music, and on Thursdays live music/a DJ set will get the party started. Owner Markos serves his own coffee, flown in directly from his family’s farm in Ethiopia.
Where? 1 Gillett Square, Dalston, London N16 8AZ
The first and oldest
Abyssiana Restaurant is the first and oldest Ethiopian restaurant in London. While some London restaurants mix in wheat or other flours into their injera, Abyssiana proclaims to be completely gluten-free. Meat tibs and tilapia fish make nice alternatives. At the end of the meal, revel in the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, or be a little more daring with some tej – Abyssinian honey wine.
Where? 9 Cricklewood Broadway, Cricklewood, London NW2 3JX
With a cookbook
One of the most popular dishes at Zeret Kitchen is shiro wat, a chickpea stew. If you’d like to try a little bit of everything, Zeret Surprise will give you several different stews and other dishes on one large injera. And for some delicious chopped, raw beef, try kitfo. For those who love the food so much they’d like to recreate it at home, the owners Tafeswork Belayneh and Berhanu Tesfaye have published a cookbook that can be bought at the restaurant.
Where? 216-218 Camberwell Rd, Camberwell, London SE5 0ED
Ethiopian food is a secret gem, but one waiting to be discovered. Lucky for us, London has a multitude of restaurants to allow us to do just that – we’d be mad not to uncover the beauty and palatability of Ethiopian cuisine!