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Ethiopian cuisine characteristically consists of vegetable and often very spicy meat dishes, usually in the form of wat (also w'et or wot), a thick stew, served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is about 50 centimeters (20 inches) in diameter and made out of fermented teff flour. Ethiopians eat exclusively with their right hands, using pieces of injera to pick up bites of entrées and side dishes. Utensils are rarely used with Ethiopian cuisine.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church prescribes a number of fasting (tsom Ge'ez: ጾም ṣōm) periods, including Wednesdays, Fridays, and the entire Lenten season; so Ethiopian cuisine contains many dishes that are vegan.
Ethiopian cuisine strongly resembles those of neighboring Eritrea and Somalia, except for the fact that Eritrean and Somali cooking tend to feature more seafood than Ethiopian cuisine on account of their coastal locations. A typical dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, kid, lamb or fish. Eritrean dishes are also frequently "lighter" in texture than Ethiopian meals. They likewise tend to employ less seasoned butter and spices and more tomatoes, as in the tsebhi dorho delicacy. Additionally, owing to its colonial history, cuisine in Eritrea features more Ottoman and Italian influences than are present in Ethiopian cooking, including more pasta specials and greater use of curry powders and cumin.
Gurage cuisine also makes use of the false banana plant (enset, Ge'ez: እንሰት inset), a type of ensete. The plant is pulverized and fermented to make a bread-like food called qocho or kocho (Ge'ez: ቆጮ ḳōč̣ō), which is eaten with kitfo. The root of this plant may be powdered and prepared as a hot drink called bulla (Ge'ez: ቡላ būlā), which is often given to those who are tired or ill. Another typical Gurage preparation is coffee with butter (kebbeh).
Pasta is frequently available throughout Ethiopia, including rural areas. Coffee is also a large part of Ethiopian culture/cuisine. After every meal, a coffee ceremony is enacted and espresso coffee is served.
Berbere, a combination of powdered chili pepper and other spices (somewhat analogous to Southwestern American chili powder), is an important ingredient used in many dishes. Also essential is niter kibbeh, a clarified butter infused with ginger, garlic, and several spices.
In their adherence to strict fasting, Ethiopian cooks have developed a rich array of cooking oil sources—besides sesame and safflower—for use as a substitute for animal fats which is forbidden during fasting periods. Ethiopian cuisine also uses nug (also spelled noog, known also as niger seed).
Wat begins with a large amount of chopped red onion, which is simmered or sauteed in a pot. Once the onions have softened, niter kebbeh (or, in the case of vegan dishes, vegetable oil) is added. Following this, berbere is added to make a spicy keiy wat or keyyih tsebhi. Turmeric is used instead of bebere for a milder alicha wat or both are omitted when making vegetable stews, atkilt wat. Meat such as beef (Amharic: ሥጋ?, səga), chicken (Amharic: ዶሮ?, doro) or Tigrinya: derho?), fish (Amharic: ዓሣ?, asa), goat or lamb (Amharic: በግ?, beg or Tigrinya: beggi?) is also added. Legumes such as split peas (Amharic: ክክ?, kək or Tigrinya: kikki?') or lentils (Amharic: ምስር?, məsər or birsin); or vegetables such as potatoes (Amharic: ድንች?, Dənəch), carrots and chard (Tigrinya: costa) are also used instead in vegan dishes.
Each variation is named by appending the main ingredient to the type of wat (e.g. kek alicha wat). However, the word keiy is usually not necessary, as the spicy variety is assumed when it is omitted (e.g. doro wat). The term atkilt wat is sometimes used to refer to all vegetable dishes, but a more specific name can also be used (as in dinich'na caroht wat which translates to "potatoes and carrots stew"; but notice the word "atkilt is usually omitted when using the more specific term).
Meat along with vegetables are sautéed to make tibs (also tebs, t'ibs, tibbs, etc., Ge'ez ጥብስ ṭibs). Tibs is served in a variety of manners and can range from hot to mild or contain little to no vegetables. There are many variations of tibs, depending on type and size or shape of the cuts of meat used.
The mid-18th century European visitor to Ethiopia, Remedius Prutky, describes tibs as a portion of grilled meat served "to pay a particular compliment or show especial respect to someone." This is perhaps still true as the dish is still prepared today to commemorate special events and holidays.
Another distinctively Ethiopian dish is kitfo (frequently spelled ketfo). It consists of raw (or rare) beef mince marinated in mitmita (Ge'ez: ሚጥሚጣ mīṭmīṭā, a very spicy chili powder similar to the berbere) and niter kibbeh. Gored gored is very similar to kitfo, but uses cubed rather than ground beef.
Ayibe is a cottage cheese that is mild and crumbly. It is much closer in texture to crumbled feta. Although not quite pressed, the whey has been drained and squeezed out. It is often served as a side dish to soften the effect of very spicy food. It has little to no distinct taste of its own. However, when served separately, ayibe is often mixed with a variety of mild or hot spices typical of Gurage cuisine.
Gomen kitfo is another typical Gurage dish. Collard greens (ጎመን gōmen) are boiled, dried and then finely chopped and served with butter, chili and spices. It is a dish specially prepared in the occasion of Meskel, a very popular holiday marking the discovery of the True Cross. It is served along with ayibe or sometimes even kitfo in this tradition called dengesa.
Fit-fit or fir-fir is a common breakfast dish. It is made from shredded injera or kitcha stir-fried with spices or wat. Another popular breakfast food is fatira. The delicacy consists of a large fried pancake made with flour, often with a layer of egg, eaten with honey. Chechebsa (or kita firfir) resembles a pancake covered with berbere and niter kibbeh, or spices, and may be eaten with a spoon. A porridge, genfo is another common breakfast dish. It is usually served in a large bowl with a dug-out made in the middle of the genfo and filled with spiced niter kibbeh.
Typical Ethiopian snacks would be dabo kolo (small pieces of baked bread that are similar to pretzels) or kolo (roasted barley sometimes mixed with other local grains). Kolo is often sold by kiosks and street venders wrapped in a paper cone. Snacking on popcorn is also common.
The coffee ceremony is the traditional serving of coffee, usually after a big meal. It often involves the use of a jebena (ጀበና), a clay coffee pot in which the coffee is boiled. The preparer roasts the coffee beans right in front of guests, then walks around wafting the smoke throughout the room so participants may sample the scent of coffee. Then the preparer grinds the coffee beans in a traditional tool called a mokecha. The coffee is put into the jebena, boiled with water, and then served with small cups called si'ni. Coffee is usually served with sugar, but is also served with salt in many parts of Ethiopia. In some parts of the country, nit kibbeh is added instead of sugar or salt.
Snacks, such as popcorn or toasted barley (or kollo), are often served with the coffee. In most homes, a dedicated coffee area is surrounded by fresh grass, with special furniture for the coffee maker. A complete ceremony has three rounds of coffee (Abol, Tona and Bereka) and is accompanied by the burning of frankincense.
Tella is a home-brewed beer served in "tella bet" ("tella" houses) which specialize in serving "tella" only. "Tella" is the most common beverage made and served in households during holidays.
Atmet is a barley and oat-flour based drink that is cooked with water, sugar and kibe (Ethiopian clarified butter) until the ingredients have married and become a consistency slightly thicker than egg-nog. Though this drink is often given to women who are nursing, the sweetness and smooth texture make it a comfort drink for anyone who enjoys its flavor.
A gursha (var. gorsha, goorsha) is an act of friendship and love. When eating injera, a person uses his or her right hand to strip off a piece, wraps it around some wat or kitfo, and then puts it into his or her mouth. During a meal with friends or family, it is a common custom to feed others in the group with one's hand by putting the rolled injera or a spoon full of other dishes into another's mouth. This is called a gursha, and the larger the gursha, the stronger the friendship or bond (only surpassed by the brewing of Tej together). This tradition was popularized and celebrated in a Simpsons episode featuring Ethiopian cuisine.
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