Ethiopian cuisine is distinctive from the national dishes of not only African countries, but also many others around the world. There is no consensus as to how this unique cuisine evolved over time. One plausible explanation is that since Ethiopia never experienced colonial rule this enabled her to preserve its ancient traditions unadulterated by foreign influences. The main feature of Ethiopian food is its spicy nature. Many of the traditional dishes are stew (wot in Amharic) which are made of chicken, lamb, beef, lentils, potato, cabbage and other vegetables and cereals. A special ingredient called berbere is used to make stew. However berbere itself should be prepared in advance before one ventures into making those stews. It is made from an array of spices and herbs in a very elaborate and complex and often in a painstaking procedure.
The other important culinary secret of Ethiopian cooking is the butter (qebe in Amharic) used. The neter qebe (refined butter) which is often called flavored butter, also made of various spices and herbs. Among those ingredients used to prepare the neter qebe are onions, garlic, ginger, and others which are known for boosting our immune systems.
Most Ethiopian food is served on a pancake like spongy flat bread called enjera. It is made of tef (Eragrostis tef), a small cereal indigenous to Ethiopia. However due to the introduction of Ethiopian food world wide other types of grains are also increasingly used to make it. Ethiopian food does not come in courses. Most commonly it is enjoyed communally. Pork is forbidden from Ethiopian food. This is due to the influence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which is one of the ancient churches of the world (established over 2000 years ago). Another major contribution of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is the way it shaped the vegetarian food. It is the most diverse and nutritious of all Ethiopian cuisines. Traditionally it is referred in Ethiopia as yatsome megebe (fasting food) because followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church are not allowed to eat meat and diary products during the long fasting seasons.
Ethiopians prefer to conclude their meal with strong coffee. Coffee originated in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia where it still grows as part of a forest plant. As an avid drinker of coffee Ethiopians have also developed their own way of serving coffee which has a long tradition. One of our aims at Zeret kitchen is therefore to maintain this tradition and share this unique experience with other people as it has been practiced centuries ago, long before the European invented the modern espresso machine.