FOR DECADES NOW, INTERNATIONAL SCHOLARS have studied many aspects of Ethiopian cuisine: when and how it emerged, how it developed, its nutritional content, the role of teff and t’ej in the cuisine – to name just a few of the topics explored by the myriad books and papers out there.
And although much of this work began before the internet made it so easy to find information, a lot of it, including some of the older studies, are now easily accessible on the internet.
My own book, Mesob Across America: Ethiopian Food in the U.S.A., draws upon this research and condenses it to tell a story about the emergence and spread of Ethiopian cuisine. But for people interested in all of this, I urge you to read some of the original documents.
So here’s a roundup of some key pieces, along with a brief summary of each. For those available on the internet, I’ll provide a link to where you can find it, often in the form of a PDF that you’ll need to download, but sometimes as a text that you can read online.
The Construction of Ethiopian National Cuisine by Abbebe Kifleyesus. “The Ethiopians have always been extraordinarily loyal to the foods of the north-central highlands,” Abbebe says at the start of his piece, which looks at the cuisine that we know as “Ethiopian,” but also at “the important evidence of historical and cultural relationships established through food and taste preferences of the various regions of Ethiopia.” He acknowledges that “there are very few historical documents relating to Ethiopian foods,” then adds, “The clues are very few but they are provocative.” Download the article as a PDF.
The Serata Gebr: A Mirror View of Daily Life at the Ethiopian Royal Court in the Middle Ages by Manfred Kropp. This important essay looks at one of the oldest documents that shows us what Ethiopians ate and how they ate it, with details and anecdotes stretching back to very near the beginning of the Ethiopian Solomonic Dynasty in the late 12th Century. Download the article as a PDF.
Famine Foods in Ethiopia by Anna Barnett. Scholars have long identified “famine foods” in Ethiopia: plants that people eat when there is no other food available. Barnett has studied this phenomenon. Download a PDF version.
Tef by Seyfu Ketema. No plant is more important to the Ethiopian diet than teff, used to make the ancient bread injera. This book-length study takes a thorough look at a unique Ethiopian crop. Download the book as a PDF.
Teff Post-Harvest Operations by Alemeyahu Refera. The growth and harvesting of teff is vital to the Ethiopian diet and economy, and this detailed report, illustrated with color photographs, looks closely at the process. Download the report as a PDF.
The Tree Against Hunger. The enset tree is a vital food source to many southern cultures, who use it to make qocho, a dish that has become increasingly popular throughout the country, as well as the porridge bula. My site has a post about qocho, and this book will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about it. Download the book as a PDF.
Enset: The Tree of the Poor by Valentina Peveri. In her paper, Peveri looks at the importance of the enset tree to the Hadiya culture of south-central Ethiopia. Download the paper as a PDF.
Teff in Ancient Agricultural Systems by A.C. D’Andrea. Ethiopians have grown teff for at least 2,000 years and have long used it to make injera. D’Andrea’s work examines many aspects of ancient Ethiopian agriculture, including the cultivation of teff. Read the article or download it as a PDF.
Fasting in Ethiopia by Karl Eric Knutsson. Ethiopian Christianity has more than 200 fasting days for the most faithful observers. This doesn’t mean no food at all: It just means no food before a certain time of day, and then, only certain foods. Download the article as a PDF.
The Traditional Foods of the Central Ethiopian Highlands by Ruth Selinas. This piece offers a good thorough look at the various elements of Ethiopian cuisine throughout the country. “Ethiopia differs in many respects from the remainder of tropical Africa, both in natural scenery and in culture,” she writes. “Like people in other parts of the world, each tribe in Ethiopia has its own beliefs and attitudes relating to foods.” Read the article online.
Wild Edible Plants in Ethiopia by Ermias Lulekal et al. Hunger is a perpetual concern in Ethiopia because of drought and poverty. But many wild plants are edible, and in desperate times, they can help feed a struggling population. Download the study as a PDF.
Chemical and Nutritional Properties of Tej by Bekele Bahiru. The Ethiopian honey wine t’ej is certainly delicious, but who knew it was also good for you? This concise study looks at what makes up t’ej. Download the article as a PDF.
Dominant Yeast in T’alla and T’ej by Haimanot Abebe Safaye. For an even more detailed look at the makeup of both t’ej and t’alla (Ethiopian traditional beer), there’s this Addis Ababa University dissertation just published in 2012. Download the dissertation as a PDF.
A Brief History of Spices in Ethiopia by Fekadu Fullas. What would Ethiopian cuisine be without its wonderful spices? In fact, a lot of the spices that Ethiopians use today aren’t native to Ethiopia, and before the west brought red pepper to the country, berbere was considerably less hot. Fekadu looks at how many spices came into the cuisine. Download the article as a PDF.
Spice Sub-Sector in Ethiopia. As important as spices are to Ethiopian cuisine, they’re also important to the Ethiopian economy, and the government has studied the marketplaces and ways to maximize it. Download the report as a PDF.
Nutritional Properties of Capsicum by Esayas Kinfe Bekele. There’s no more important spice in Ethiopia than berbere, and Capsicum is the pepper primarily used to make it. In his dissertation at Addis Ababa University, Esayas looked closely at the properties of this valuable spice. Download the dissertation as a PDF.
Some Important New World Plants in Ethiopia by Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher. Some of the vegetables that Ethiopian eat today aren’t native to Ethiopia, and this piece looks at when and how they might have entered the diet. Download the article as a PDF.
Crop Production in Ethiopia by Alemayehu Seyoum Taffesse et al. There’s certainly a lot of starvation and drought in Ethiopia, and we often read about it in the news. But there are also many fertile regions of the country, and this study looks at the diversity of Ethiopian agriculture and its output. Download the article as a PDF.
How To Make the Most of a Shared Meal: Plan the Last Bite First by Lionel Levine and Katherine E. Stange. In this innovative article, two Cornell mathematicians use formulas to calculate the best way to eat a shared Ethiopian meal. Download the article as a PDF.
Stirring the Pot by James McCann. One of the world’s leading authorities on Ethiopian food and culture, McCann has written extensively about Ethiopian agriculture and has lived in Ethiopia off and on over the years. He teaches at Boston University. This book examines various African cuisines and has two chapters devoted exclusively to Ethiopian cuisine. Download the Introduction as a PDF.
The Araqe Dilemma by Yeraswork Admassie and Ezana Amdework. Araqe and katikala are the two most popular and well-known distilled beverages in Ethiopia – sort of like the Ethiopian ouzo and vodka, respectively. This study looks at their production and importance across Ethiopia. The 130-page book is not online, but you can read the first 29 pages and look at some of its pictures and illustrations on Google Books.
Beef Demand in Ethiopia by Samuel Admassu. Ethiopian have eaten raw meat for centuries, and it’s still a treasured dish in modern Ethiopia. This dissertation from Addis Ababa University looks at the demand for beef and the safety issues related to eating it. Download the dissertation as a PDF.
Case Study of Teshomech Kitfo Restaurant by Betesaida Antonios. Kitfo is a beloved raw meat dish in Ethiopia, and this unusual dissertation from Addis Ababa University looks closely at a popular restaurant in Ethiopia that opened in 1992 and specializes in kitfo. Download the dissertation as a PDF.
Healthy Eating in King County East African Communities by Elizabeth Burpee. Washington State has a large East African community, and this interesting study – loaded with tidbits about cultural eating habits and customs – looks at nutrition among Oromos and Tigrayans from Ethiopia and also among Somali immigrants. Download the study as a PDF.
A Glossary of Ethiopian Food Styles by Gianni Dore. This piece, written and published in Italian, asserts that “the core of the northern and central regions of Ethiopia have a rich and long-lasting written literature and fresh and important data on food and culture.” Dore then pores through that literature to explore “the social value of dishes and drinks, the slaughtering of animals, the partition of meat, and t’ej. Download the article as a PDF in Italian or read a Google translation online. [You may need to click the translation link a few times: Sometimes the function doesn’t work the first time.]
Ethiopian Food and Tej by Nikolai Gumilev. Written in Russian, this informative magazine article discusses the history of Ethiopian cuisine and tej and includes numerous contemporary photos and illustrations from 19th Century books. Download the article as a PDF.
Injera Baking Machines. In Ethiopia, women make injera one piece at a time. But several Ethiopian-Americans have independently patented machines that make injera by automation. Their patent applications are online, and at the following links, you can download them as PDFs to see diagrams of these innovative machines.
The oldest system is the Zelalem Injera Machine, invented by Wudneh Admassu, a professor at the University of Idaho. It’s now in operation in Dallas and Washington, D.C., and you can buy Zelalem injera by mail, including a variety made with pure teff (which is gluten free).
A few years later, Yoseph Temesgen patented his Injera Baking Machine. Emru Desalegn of Texas has patented his Method for Making Ethiopian Bread. And now, Canadian restaurateur Wassie Mulugeta, who owns Wass Ethiopian Restaurant in Hamilton, Ontario, has patented a Rotary Baking System that can make injera and other round breads. A company in Alberta, Canada, makes the Lalifax Injera Machine, but I haven’t found a patent for it.
University of Pittsburgh