THIS ALPHABETICAL GLOSSARY offers a guide to Ethiopian cuisine: the names of dishes commonly served at Ethiopian restaurants, along with entries for many words and terms relating to Ethiopian food.
Unless otherwise noted, the entries in the glossary are words in Amharic, the state language of Ethiopia, and most restaurants around the world name their dishes in transliterated Amharic.
But there are more than 90 languages spoken across the country (some by only a few thousand people). Ethiopians from the north speak Tigrinya, which is also the language of Eritrea, whose cuisine is identical to Ethiopian (Eritrea was once a northern province of Ethiopia). Afaan Oromo is also a widely spoken language, although even if an immigrant restaurant owner is Oromo, the restaurant will most likely use the Amharic names for dishes because of their familiarity. Still, this glossary includes some common words in Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo that you may encounter. These will be noted as such.
Transliterating Amharic and Tigrinya is imprecise at best because the process has never been standardized. This can lead to numerous different spellings on menus, such as the word for a spicy meat stew: You may see wot or wat or wet or w’et. Choosing whether to use a “k” or a “q” to transliterate that sound also leads to differences. The glossary will note all of these possibilities. I know of no words relating to Ethiopian food that begin with the letters U or V, so I welcome entries for those letters.
Finally, the entries cross reference with each other, so if you see a word in one entry that you don’t know, it will have an entry elsewhere in the glossary.
Abol. The first cup of coffee at an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Traditionally, three cups are served. See also hulategna and bereka.
Adangware. A type of broad bean used in some Ethiopian dishes. Also sometimes used simply as a word for bean.
Afrinj. A very mildly spiced condiment for kids or anyone who can’t handle berbere or mitmita.
Agilgil. An animal hide basket with a lid and strings to tie it shut, used as a sort of lunch basket. Sometimes spelled agelgel.
Akuri Atar. Soybean.
Alicha. A mild stew of meat or vegetables made without berbere, spiced with such things as ginger or turmeric. Occasionally written alich’a.
Ambasha. A large round leavened bread, usually with a design carved in the top. This bread comes from Tigray in the north of Ethiopia. Sometimes written hambasha or himbasha.
Anebabero. Layers of injera, piled one on top of the other, and all smeared with niter kibe and berbere.
Anchote. A climbing leafy plant with a potato-like fruit eaten by the Oromo culture of Ethiopia. Sometimes written ancootee.
Araki. See areqe.
Areqe. An Ethiopian distilled liquor, similar to katikala. Sometimes spelled araki.
Asama. Pig. Ethiopian Christians and Moslems don’t eat pork, but some Protestants and Catholics in Ethiopia do. Sometimes spelled aasama.
Atmet. A drink of barley and oat flour mixed in water and flavored with niter kibe and sugar. Sometimes spelled atmit.
Awaze. Berbere blended with water, oil and t’ej or wine. It’s used as a dipping sauce or stir fry sauce to spice up meat dishes. More or less the same as delleh. Some cooks say that if you use oil and water, it’s awaze, but if you use wine or t’ej, it’s delleh.
Azifa. A dish made of green lentils blended with chopped onions, jalapenos, lime juice and vegetable oil, then spiced with ginger and turmeric. Usually served cold.
Baduu. The Afaan Oromo word for ayib, or cheese.
Bakela. The Amharic word for bean, but also the word for fava beans used in making ful.
Banatu. A dish where another food or dish is placed on top of the main dish after it’s cooked.
Baqolo. Corn. Sometimes spelled bakolo.
Berbere. An Ethiopian red pepper powder used to make a wot. It’s dried, finely ground hot Mexican chili pepper blended with other spices – sometimes half a dozen or more – of the chef’s choosing. This is also the basic Amharic word for pepper. In Amharic, the name for this specific pepper is berbere, the pepper itself. See mitmita and qundo berbere.
Berchma: A small round wooden chair that goes around a mesob.
Bereka. The third cup of coffee at an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Traditionally, three cups are served. The word means “blessed.” See also abol and hulategna.
Berele. This is a vessel for drinking t’ej. It has a round bottom, long neck, and small hole at the top of the neck.
Berz. Honey mixed with water, and perhaps allowed to ferment for a day or two, but not so long that it develops any alcohol content. This is an alcohol-free alternative to t’ej.
Beso. Roasted barley flour. It can be used to make several dishes also simply called beso: by mixing it with water to make a pasty or crumbly snack, or by mixing it with water and honey to make a drink.
Beyayenetu. A combination platter of dishes, usually all vegetarian. If you add meat, it’s a beyayenetu b’siga (“with meat”).
Bikil. Germinated barley, used to make t’alla.
Biret Mitad. A small metal pan on the end of a long handle, used for roasting coffee beans over a heat source.
Birsen. The Tigrinya word for lentil.
Bozena Shiro. Beef mixed with shiro. The word bozena means “lazy.”
Brindo. Raw meat served as a meal in chunks. See tere siga.
Budeena. The Afaan Oromo word for injera. Sometimes written bideena.
Bula. Powdered enset used to make a porridge of the same name that’s flavored with niter kibe.
Buna Bet. Literally, “coffee house.”
Buna Qala. Coffee flavored with butter, a favorite way to serve coffee in Oromo culture.
Butecha. A dish of chick pea flour cooked in water until it thickens, then spiced with ginger and turmeric, to which you add chopped onions and jalapenos and some lemon juice. Usually served cold.
Chabsi. Liquor, alcohol.
Chabasa. An alcoholic drink.
Chagwara. Stomach, sometimes served in a wot using the stomach of a cow or lamb.
Chechebsa. An Oromo way of serving qita, chopped into pieces rather than served as a whole flat “pie.”
Chefuye. A dipping sauce for tere siga made with kibe and berbere, sort of like awaze.
Chiko. A porridge of barley meal flavored with niter kibe.
Chornaki. A ball of fried dough lightly dusted with sugar, eaten as a dessert or a snack. Similar to a pasti.
Chumbo. A bread made by the Oromo culture of Ethiopia. The cook begins by heating a concave mitad-like oven with hot coals. She places the dough or batter onto the hot surface, covers it with emset leaves, then places a second identical concave oven on top. The finished bread comes out moist and juicy.
Chuuco. The Afaan Oromo word for beso, roasted barley flour.
Daaddii. The Afaan Oromo word for t’ej.
Daata. A spicy condiment or dip made with berbere and other spices.
Dabo. Bread. Although injera is the staple bread of Ethiopian cuisine, Ethiopians do make a variety of leavened breads, like the ambasha, mulmul or defo dabo, to name a few.
Dabo Qolo. Small pieces of dough, fried or baked and eaten as a snack. Sometime written dabo kolo.
Dagera. Another word that refers to a gursha, it occurs when one person places a morsel of food into another person’s mouth, and the other person then returns the honor. It’s a ritual of sharing.
Dagesa. Gomen mixed with ayib.
Defin. Whole. For example: defin misir alicha, a mild stew of whole brown lentils.
Derek. Dry. A dish called derek tibs – meat that’s pan fried in niter kibe – doesn’t have a juicy kulet like a wot.
Dirkosh. Sun- or oven-dried pieces of injera, usually crispy and crunchy.
Defo Dabo. A leavened bread that’s wrapped in the leaves of the enset plant for baking. Outside of Ethiopia, you can use banana leaves if you can’t find enset leaves.
Diblik. Mixture, as in diblik atkilt (mixed vegetables). See also qelqel.
Delleh or Dilleh. See awaze.
Doké. Thick. This is one way to serve shiro – in a thicker form, not too thin and liquid. See also feses.
Doro Tibs. Chicken fried in niter kibe, usually with onions, jalapenos and spices.
Duba. Pumpkin or squash.
Dulet. This stew should have at least three meats, including liver (plus maybe tripe and kidney), and the most traditional is made with lamb liver.
Duqet. Flour or powder.
Efeta. This term refers to the buttery part of a meaty wot or alicha – that is, the layer of butter that floats to the top in the pot or on your plate. The more buttery the dish you serve, the more you trumpet your prosperity, so the man or woman of the house will eat the efeta first at a meal.
Engotcha. Small wheat breads that you dip in honey, a treat enjoyed by the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jews).
Ensera. A pitcher than can be used for making t’alla or t’ej.
Enset. A tree eaten by southern Ethiopian cultures in various forms. See qocho, bula.
Farso. The Afaan Oromo word for t’alla, an Ethiopian homemade grain beer.
Fasolia. Green bean (string beans), but also the name for a dish of green beans stewed in onions, sometimes with carrots, potatoes or jalapeno peppers.
Feses. Thin. This is one way to serve shiro – in a thinner, more liquid form. See also doké.
Fetira. A breakfast food that comes to the cuisine from the Moslem-influenced cities of Dire Dawa and Harar. It’s a flaky puff pastry, sort of like filo dough, or sometimes a thicker dough, combined with an egg in the shape of an omelet.
Feyal. Goat. Not a common food in Ethiopia, but some cultures do eat it.
Firfir. See Fitfit.
Fitfit and Firfir. The former is a general term for mixing chopped injera into a dish. The latter refers to mixing chopped injera into a spicy wot. All firfir is fitfit, but not all fitfit is firfir. Firfir usually uses dirkosh, and fitfit uses fresh injera.
Ful. A dish of mashed seasoned fava beans that came to the Ethiopian menu from Arabic culture. Often served for breakfast, with a garnish of chopped onions, chopped tomatoes and crusty bread or injera.
Ga’at. The Tigrinya word for genfo, a barley porridge.
Gan. Large pottery jar used in making t’alla or t’ej.
Gebeta. A platter at meals with the injera and various dishes on top of it. This is also a more generic term for a basket. See mesob.
Genfo. An Ethiopian porridge made by cooking water and barley flour until it thickens. When it does, you place the porridge on a plate, carve a hole in the middle, and fill the hole with melted niter kibe spiced with berbere. You then use a spoon to dip pieces of the genfo in the spicy buttery center. Sometimes served surrounded by ergo (yogurt).
Gesho. A species of buckthorn that grows native to Ethiopia. Its woody branches and dried leaves are used to flavor and ferment t’ej an t’alla.
Gogo. The Tigrinya word for a biscuit made of wheat and barley flour (in one recipe book I have) mixed with water and a little salt.
Gomen. Collard greens or kale stewed in onions and spices, a staple Ethiopian vegetable dish.
Goden Tibs. A dish of short ribs. Goden means rib.
Gored Gored. Cubed raw beef that you eat by dipping in mitmita.
Gubat. Liver. You can use this to make dulat.
Gumbo. The horn of an ox, used for drinking t’ej.
Gursha. At a meal, this occurs when one person places a morsel of food into another person’s mouth, and the other person then return the honor. It’s a ritual of sharing. Also called dagera.
Hambasha. See ambasha.
Hamli. The Tigrinya word for collard greens.
Harar. A type of Ethiopian coffee, named for a town in eastern Ethiopia.
Hibist. Manna. In Ge’ez, the ancient language of Ethiopia, this was the word for bread.
Himbasha. See ambasha.
Hulategna. The second cup of coffee at an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Traditionally, three cups are served. See also abol and bereka.
Hulbat Marakh. A spicy thin stew with beef and potatoes, served with injera or dabo. This dish is eaten in the areas of the eastern city of Harar and came to Ethiopia from Arabic culture.
Hwiswas. The Tigrinya word for beyayenetu, a combination platter of dishes, usually all vegetarian.
Injera. The Ethiopian traditional flatbread, made from a fermented batter, and cooked on a large round surface called a mitad. The bread is smooth on the bottom, bubbly on top, and has a spongy consistency.
Itto. The Afaan Oromo word for wot, a spicy stew.
Jebeba. A pot for serving Ethiopian coffee, round on the bottom with a long neck and a spout at the top.
Kantisha. The Tigrinya word for inguday, or mushroom.
Karya. Jalapeño pepper.
Kategna. Lightly pan-toasted injera smeared with niter kibe that’s been infused with berbere. Sometimes offered as an appetizer at restaurants.
Katikala. An Ethiopian distilled liquor, similar to areqe.
Kay. Red. This word will often appear with a wot¸ for example, kay wot, meaning a spicy red stew. But it’s largely unnecessary: A wot is always red from the berbere. Better spelled qay, although it never is.
Kay Sir. Beets. Literally, “red root.” Better spelled qay sir.
Keribo. A beverage made of fermented barley flour and sugar. Sometimes spelled niter qeribo.
Kibe. See niter qibe.
Kik. Split. As in: atar kik alicha, split yellow peas in a mildly spiced stew.
Kikil. See qeqel.
Kilkil. See qilqil.
Kitfo. Chopped ground beef, seasoned with niter kibe, mitmita and cardamom, served raw (tere). It can also be served slightly heated (lebleb) or fully cooked (yebesele).
Kita. See qita.
Kochkocha. A dip or condiment made with finely chopped jalapeño peppers, some onion, and several spices.
Kocho. See qocho.
Komtata. This refers to injera that’s especially tangy and sour from fermentation. Some people like it that way, others don’t. It comes from the Amharic word for vinegar and to ferment.
Koti. Coffee leaves, used to make tea or as an ingredient in shai qemam.
Kinche. See qinche.
Kolo. See qolo.
Kulet. Wot sauce. This is onions cooked in niter kibe and spiced with berbere. It’s the foundation of all wot dishes.
Kulwa. See qulwa.
Kundo Berbere. See qundo berbere.
Kurs. See qurs.
Kurt. See qurt.
Kwon. A dish of mashed and heated cornmeal eaten by the remote Anuak people of southwest Ethiopia.
Laslasa. Literally, to be smooth or become smooth. It can refer to a sweet drink, perhaps a soft drink or juice, or to very sweet t’ej.
Lebleb. Lightly heated, lightly cooked.
Letenachin. The Ethiopian toast, it means “to our health.”
Mahaberawi. A term for a platter with many dishes intended to be shared.
Manteria. Butter spice. When Indians clarify butter – that is, gently boil it until the milk solids separate from the fatty oil – they add no spices, but the Ethiopian version, niter qibe, adds lots of them. Manteria is a term that refers to the blend of spices you mix and put into the butter while it’s clarifying. You can also call this by the more generic term ye’kibe qemam, literally, butter spice.
Marqaa. The Afaan Oromo word for genfo, a barley porridge.
Mekelesha. A blend of spices used to add extra flavor to a wot, stirred in when the dish is fully cooked and just about ready to be served.
Memegebia. General term for a small basket – smaller than a full mesob.
Menkeshkesh. The Tigrinya word for biret mitad.
Mes. The Tigrinya word for t’ej, or honey wine.
Mesob. A large colorful woven basket with a tall pointed lid and hole in the center. People sit around a mesob at mealtime with the food on a gebeta in the center.
Milas. Tongue. You can make a wot out of beef tongue
Minchet Abish. A dish of chopped beef cooked in niter kibe and spices. Abish is the Amharic word for fenugreek.
Misto. A dish with a mix of meats.
Mitmita. A very hot Ethiopian red pepper powder used in a few dishes (such as kitfo) or as a dip on the side to make food hotter. It’s also the Amharic name for the pepper used to make it. In English, we would call it a serrano pepper. See also berbere.
Mitad. The devised used for making injera. It’s large, round and flat, heated by wood or coals from beneath, or with electricity in the modern version.
Metin Shiro. See shiro.
Mogogo. The tigrinya word for mitad
Mudai. A small mesob.
Mugera. A bread made by the Oromo culture of Ethiopia. Baked like a chumbo, it’s the Oromo version of a defo dabo.
Mulmul. A small dabo for kids at the holidays. You can wrap it in enset leaves and put it in the embers for a crusty bread with the taste of the embers. Made for the Ethiopian holiday Buhe.
Nech Shinkurt. Garlic. Literally, “white onion.” See also shinkurt.
Nech Shiro. Literally, “white shiro.” This is a milder form of shiro.
Niter Qibe. Ethiopian clarified and spiced butter, similar to the Indian ghee. Sometimes written niter kibe.
Pasti. A ball of fried dough, lightly dusted with sugar, eaten as a dessert or snack. Similar to a chornaki.
Qeqel or Kikil. Boiled. This can refer to a broth, sometimes with meaty bones, but sometimes with just vegetables.
Qibe. Butter. See niter qibe.
Qilqil or Kilkil. Mixture, as in kilkil atkilt (mixed vegetables).
Qita. Sometimes called an Ethiopian pizza because it’s round and flat. This is made by mixing flour (barley, teff, wheat) with water and then cooking it on a hot surface. When it’s cooked, you smear the top with niter kibe infused with berbere. If you chop it up into little pieces, it’s called chechebsa.
Qinche. A cracked wheat porridge. Also written kinche.
Qocho. The trunk of the enset plant, finely chopped into a mosty meal, then fermented in the ground and later formed into thin, chewy, tangy bread-like pieces. This is an important food in southern Ethiopian cultures.
Qolo. Roasted barley kernels, eaten as a snack. Sometimes spelled kolo.
Quanta. Ethiopian beef jerky – that is, dried spicy beef strips and pieces.
Qulwa. The Tigrinya word for tibs, or fried meat. Sometimes spelled kulwa. In Tigrinya, tibs are also called tibsi.
Qundo Berbere. Black pepper. Qundo means “main,” and back before Ethiopians had chili peppers to make berbere, black pepper spiced their food.
Qurs. Breakfast. Sometimes written kurs.
Qurt. Raw beef served in long strips. To eat the beef, you place one end of the strip into your mouth and use a knife to cut a chunk off as close to your lips as you dare. Sometimes written kurt.
Rekebot. A table used for serving coffee, with the jebena and sini placed on top.
Sambusa. A small, usually triangle-shaped dish of fried dough filled with lentils or meat, usually spicy. It’s sometimes offered as an appetizer at Ethiopian restaurants.
Samma. An Ethiopian species of nettle, a thorny and bitter plant, cooked into a gomen-like wot by some Ethiopian cultures.
Skwar. Sugar. Sometimes spelled sekwar.
Shai Qemam. This is the Ethiopian teabag, a blend of spices used to flavor tea (shai). You can make your tea with just the spices, or you can put them into black tea. Shai qemam tends to be expensive when you buy it “mixed” in an Ethiopian market, so just mix some yourself: cardamom pods, cloves and a cinnamon stick – use proportions to suit your taste.
Shent Tibs: Shent means “side of the body,” so this meaty dish is the equivalent of rib-eye.
Shimbra. Chick pea. This word refers to the smaller brownish chick peas found in Ethiopia. The larger white chick peas are sometimes referred to as shimbra dube. The word in Amharic for pumpkin is duba, so shimbra dube emphasizes the larger size of the shimbra.
Shimbra Asa. Literally, chick pea fish. This dish, often served during fasting holidays when Ethiopians eat no meat, consists of forming chick pea dough into little fish-shaped pieces, then frying them and blending them into a spicy kulet.
Shakla Dist. A clay pot used for cooking.
Shinkurt. Onion. In cooking, Ethiopians prefer to use kay shinkurt, literally, “red onion,” or what we call shallots. But the typical larger American red onion is often used – just not white or yellow onions.
Shiro. A dish made of chick peas or yellow peas and spices. The peas are dried and turned into a flour to which spices are added. The mixture is then reconstituted in water and heated until it thickens. Nech shiro is mild, metin shiro is spicy.
Shurebé. A nickname for a berele, used by avid t’ej drinkers, referring to its long neck. It’s meant to evoke long-necked Ethiopian women with shurebé hair styles.
Sidamo. A type of Ethiopian coffee, named for the Sidama region of southern Ethiopia.
Siga Bet. Literally, “meat house,” that is, a butcher shop, and also usually a place where you can get dishes – like a wot, kitfo or tere siga – prepared with beef or lamb.
Siga Tibs. A dish of lean beef fried in niter kibe, usually with onions, jalapeños and spices.
Siljo. A shiro-like puree made from powdered fava beans and spices.
Silsi. Tomatoes stewed with onions, oil and berbere. This is the Tigrinya and Eritrean version of kulet. It’s eaten as a side dish, or you can cook a wot in it.
Sini. A small cup used to serve coffee.
Sinig. A jalapeño pepper stuffed with onions or lentils.
Sik Sik. This is siga wot, but it’s a tightly packed dish, with more meat than anything else, and not a lot of water.
Suwa. The Tigrinya word for t’alla, a homemade grain beer.
Taba. A small clay serving dish.
Taita. The Tigrinya word for injera.
T’alla. Ethiopian traditional beer made with grains and hops. Sometimes spelled talla or t’ella.
Tafach. Sweets. There are no desserts native to Ethiopian cuisine, so Ethiopians might use the word to indicate an after-dinner pastry or dessert of any kind.
Tegabino. A special shiro served bubbling hot in a shakla dist.
Telba. Flax seeds. Also a drink made of ground flax seeds mixed with water and honey
T’ej. Ethiopian wine made with honey. It’s called mes in Tigrinya and daaddi in Afaan Oromo. In Ethiopia, t’ej is simply the word that Amharic uses to mean “wine.” If you want Western-style grape wine, you ask for wayn t’ej, where wayn is the Amharic word for grape, just as you would ask for “honey wine” in English, where “wine” means grape wine. Often spelled simply tej.
T’ej Bet. Literally, “t’ej house,” a bar where the primary (perhaps only) beverage you can buy is t’ej.
Tena Adam. Rue. This translates literally as “the health of Adam.” Its leaves and twigs help to flavor ergo, ayib and sometimes even berbere. The berries, boiled in water, can make a tea.
Teff. A gluten-free grain native to Ethiopia, and the smallest grain in the world – one piece is the size of a grain of sand – it’s used in Ethiopia to make injera. Restaurants outside of Ethiopia will mix teff with other flours (wheat, barley) to make injera.
Tere Siga. Literally, raw meat. See also qurt, kitfo, brindo.
Tibs. Fried, usually fried meat.
Tibsi. The Tigrinya word for tibs, or fried meat. In Tigrinya, tibs are also called qulwa (sometimes spelled kulwa).
Tihlo. Roasted barley balls that you dip in kulet that’s been topped with ayib. This dish comes to the table from northern Ethiopia.
Tikur Azmud. Cumin.
Tikil Gomen. Cabbage. A stew of this name is cabbage cooked in onions, usually with carrots and sometimes jalapeño peppers.
Tosegn. A native Ethiopian spice similar to thyme.
Tsebhi. The Tigrinya word for wot, a spicy stew.
T’som. Fast – that is, not eating. The most devout Ethiopian Christians have more than 200 fasting days, during which they don’t eat until midday and eat no meat. Less devout people follow this fast during the Lenten season. The term t’som megeb means fasting food – that is, vegetarian dishes.
Tuk Tuk. A phrase Ethiopians may use to describe the sound of a stew bubbling on the stove.
Waaddii. The Afaan Oromo word for tibs, or fried meat.
Wakalim. A spicy Ethiopian sausage.
Walmaka. The Afaan Oromo word for beyayenetu, a combination platter of dishes, usually all vegetarian.
Warqii. The Afaan Oromo word for enset.
Wat. See Wot.
Watela. A type of spiced Ethiopian beef jerky.
Wet. See Wot.
Wot. A spicy stew of meat or vegetables. The sauce for the stew consists of finely chopped onions, berbere and other spices of the chef’s choice. Sometimes spelled wat, wet or w’et.
Xafi. A grain grown in the south of Ethiopia and used by Oromo culture, sometimes to make budeena.
Ye. The Amharic preposition “of.” Some restaurants will use this in the name of their dishes. For example: yemisir wot, a spicy stew of lentils.
Ye’aasama Siga. Pork (literally, pig meat). Ethiopian Christians and Moslems don’t eat pork, but some Protestants and Catholics in Ethiopia do.
Yebesele. Fully cooked.
Ye’kibe Qemam. Literally, butter spice. See manteria.
Ye Wend Alicha. This Amharic expression means “an alicha of a man.” Alicha is a mildly spiced dish, so the phrase implies that the man can’t handle hot spicy foods. It’s the Ethiopian version of a culinary wimp.
Yirgacheffe. A type of Ethiopian coffee, named for a town in southern Ethiopia.
Zayt. Cooking oil.
Zigni. A thick spicy beef stew, like siga wot. Sometimes written zighini.
Zilbo. A thicker wot – more meat, thicker sauce – made with zilzil meat. It can be mixed with gomen.
Zilzil. This refers to meat cut into long strips. Zilzil tibs is long strips of beef, pan fried with onions and jalapeño peppers.
University of Pittsburgh