Ethiopia is an extremely vegetarian and vegan friendly destination, with a culture based around fasting and being meat and dairy free for large parts of the year and with a wealth of delicious vegan friendly food to choose from. Vegans or vegetarians travelling in Ethiopia will have no problem finding something to eat to suit their needs, and that goes for those who need gluten free food too. Here is your extensive guide to Ethiopian vegan and vegetarian cuisine to make sure you never go hungry.
Ethiopia has on first glance a very meat based diet based around rearing traditional livestock. Dishes based on chicken, lamb, goat and beef are everywhere, but look a little closer and you will find that Ethiopia has one of the tastiest and vegan friendly cuisines in the world!
The good news for vegans and vegetarians is that Ethiopia has a strong cuisine that is not only heavily vegetable and plant based, but also revolves around having no animal or dairy products at all, and these dishes are so commonplace and delicious that even voracious meat eaters like myself won’t miss meat at all while they are here!
The culture of fasting.
Ethiopia’s largest religious group is actually Ethiopian Orthodox Christian, and as part of that culture large parts of the population fast almost every Wednesday and Friday (with only a couple of exceptions on specific religious days, and for extended periods around various religious holidays throughout the year.
But this is not technically fasting as you would normally understand it, which has to be done carefully to be healthy for you. This isn’t just abstaining from all food and drink for a certain period of time.
The Ethiopian practice of fasting simply abstains from all animal products for 208 days out of the year, but vegetable and vegan foods are still permitted. This essentially means that even though they may not call themselves vegetarian or vegan, those practicing this tradition are effectively completely vegan for more than half of the year!
Vegan and Vegetarian cuisine.
This means that Ethiopia has a truly stunning range of delicious vegan dishes and as a result is extremely vegan and veggie friendly. Even on the days where fasting is technically not required these dishes are always available, so vegetarians and vegans won’t have any issues finding meals to suit their diets.
I am far from a vegetarian myself, I love my food too much for that! But Ethiopia has such an awesome array of delicious vegetarian food it was very easy to slip into their cultural norms of abstaining from meat and dairy on Wednesdays and Fridays, and there were so many dishes to try I really did not feel like I was missing out at all!
So what Ethiopian dishes should vegans and vegetarians look out for?
Injera bread is an absolute staple of all Ethiopian meals and is served up with pretty much everything. And the best thing is it is not just vegan friendly it is completely gluten free too!
Injera is made from teff flour, a gluten free grain that is highly nutritious. (Although some modern restaurants in Addis and other places are using normal flour too now, so just double check if you are gluten free).
It is a thick, spongy, dough like pancake that is either served spread out on a pan with a mixture of dishes on top, or rolled up so that you can dip it into whatever sauce you like.
I’ll be honest I didn’t take to Injera at first. When eaten on its own it has a slightly sour, vinegary taste due to the fact that when making it they let the grain ferment, but when used with some of the (very) spicy curries it compliments and cools the spices perfectly and soaks up all the taste of the dip, and I genuinely ended up loving it.
This isn’t so much a dish in and of itself, but a spice mix that is so popular in Ethiopia that it is served with as many meals as possible and you will come across it quite frequently. The exact mix differs slightly from place to place but generally includes quantities of chilli, garlic, paprika, ginger, fenugreek, radhuni, ajwain and other spices.
Wat is the Ethiopian version of a curry or a stew, and has so many varieties. It is not exclusively vegan as you can get meat based wat too, but there are tons of vegan versions too and it is so ubiquitous you will come across it a lot, so it is good to know what it is!
Shiro wat is an Ethiopian staple meal, probably second only to Injera bread. It is a curry or a stew made primarily with ground chickpeas, and it is not only vegan but gluten free as well! It is often cooked with a few spices, garlic, onion or other ingredients so it can vary slightly in taste depending where you are but it is always delicious and is perfect for soaking up with injera bread!
Similar to Shiro Wat, except this is made from lentils, Misir Wat is considered another absolute staple and can be found on almost every menu or generic vegetarian meal with a mixture of dips and curries. Made primarily from lentils, this dish is really high in protein too so is extra healthy for you as well as being vegan and gluten free!
Yetsom Beyanetu is the Ethiopian equivelent of a combination platter. It is basically a large Injera bread with a huge selection of chopped and spiced vegetables and vegetarian and vegan curries and stews. Ordering one of these is not for the light eater as they are huge, but they are perfect for sharing with friends and getting a good taste of everything at once.
Fitfit is essentially a cold salad type meal mixed with chopped injera bread, sometimes soaked in a flavoured curry or stew, tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and jalapeños. and is usually served as breakfast or as an appetizer.
Not so much a dish in and of itself, but you can’t have an Ethiopian meal without a wide assortment of vegetables from chopped tomatoes and cabbage to carrots and onions, all solid, earthy vegetables, and everything else in between. The vegetables are all mixed with a variety of spices and just a couple of bowls can make a a full meal in with some injera bread.
More than enough for everyone’s tastes.
Ethiopia has a great, varied diet that has not changed much since Biblical times, and although meat is widely and easily available, both vegetarian and vegan food is so widely ingrained into everyone’s diets that it is not only everywhere but it is delicious too. That is what I genuinely love about Ethiopia, both diet styles are equally venerated. Vegan and vegetarian food is not a niche thing in Ethiopia and whether you choose to be vegan or vegetarian as a lifestyle or for moral reasons or whether you choose to eat a meat free diet for health reasons, you will never have a hard time picking something out from a menu.
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*Important note: This post is in no way sponsored or incentivised by the businesses or places mentioned. I received no payment or favours for writing this. This is just my own personal opinion on my personal favourite foods to eat in Singapore and where you can find good examples of them.