Having been to Ethiopia several times now, while working on a documentary, I’ve had a chance to see a bit of the country as well as sample a lot of its food, which has led me to to the following conclusions:
1.) Ethiopian food is as unique as its culture and history. No other country in Africa (or the world, for that matter) has the same style of eating as the Ethiopians, who enjoy the spongy, sour-dough injera bread (made of teff, a gluten-free grass) with practically every meal. They use a myriad of spices as well, including chilies, which gives their food a lot of flavor and a bit of a bite.
2.) Ethiopian’s do not really eat dessert: A fact I discovered when staying at several small hotels outside the capital of Addis Ababa.
3.) As the birthplace of the coffee bean (from the southwestern province of Kaffa), Ethiopia produces some of the best joe in the world. But everytime they enjoy a cup, they like to roast the the raw greenish beans before grinding them and brewing them—a time-consuming process that would leave those looking for a quick caffeine fix grinding their teeth in anticipation. Also, everyone in Ethiopia loves macchiato, expresso with a touch of milk.
4.) Finally, when I first I heard the term ‘cultural restaurant’ I was thinking along the lines of ‘Medieval Times,’ but the cultural restaurants (in Addis, at least) seem to be the place to go for top local dining. Not only is the food excellent, but so is the entertainment, which involves a revolving cast of Ethiopian singers and dancers. Tourist flock to these places, but then again, so do the locals. I ate at such establishments as Yod Abyssinia, Habesha, Fasika, Shangri-La and Dashen, which all provide the traditional dining experience, but the food and atmosphere at Yod had me coming back for more.
You can have a serious carnivore experience here, or opt for the all-vegan ‘fasting food’ which is equally delicious while grooving to the sounds of traditional Ethiopian song and dance. This was also the only place in town where I was brave enough to try the tere sega or raw meat. We had raw goat meat, which turned out to really have no taste (gamey or otherwise), which was why you had to dip it into one of several spice mixtures—either awazi, a wet, chili mix; mitmita, a dry chili mix; or mustard.