It would seem to be a dichotomy that in a country where many people do not have enough to eat that there is also a wide variety of food to be found. Food in Ethiopia is highlighted by fresh fruits like mango and avocados. Good soils and sufficient rain in the wet season leave the land is lush and green and leads to an abundant variety of crops. Corn, wheat, and soybeans can easily be grown, and Evan Maxfield remarked at their astonishing size that he had “never seen such large vegetables as what grows there.”
Coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia and it grows wild in the forests of Kaffa. The country is the original source of coffee beans, and coffee has become an integral part of the Ethiopian culture. Local people even have coffee ceremonies. They use cups, similar to the Chinese tea cups, and burn incense while drinking their coffee straight or as a “macchiato”, which is a coffee and milk blend. Coffee tends to be very strong there, and they refer to coffee in the United States as “black water.” Restaurants roast their coffee beans in pans right in front of their guests, so the coffee is very fresh.
Teff is a cereal grain that also grows wild in Ethiopia. It is a grassy plant that produces very small seeds, which are gluten-free for the most part. It’s an old indigenous variety of grain that has been around for several hundred years. Used as bread flour, it is used to make a traditional staple food called injera. This bread goes through a fermenting process, and it is then cooked flat, rolled up, and then cut into little sections. In most Ethiopian restaurants, rolls of injera will be served rolled out on a plate. Sauces and other foods are dished out on top of the bread, which is then eaten as a finger food; it can be a little messy. Teff is used in other parts of Africa for bread making, as well, and it takes foreigners some getting used to the unique texture and taste, due to the fermenting process the bread goes through.
While there is running water in many places of the country, and it is fairly clean, it is not the best source of drinking water. Visitors should carry bottled water, or at least know where to get some. Sodas in Ethiopia have a higher quality taste, however, than those made in the United States. There is not a lot of variety, but sodas that are packaged there are made with real, natural sugar, rather than refined. This includes Coke, Pepsi, and Fanta.
Other served foods include spaghetti-like noodles with unique sauces and diced up small meats, usually goat or lamb, called tibs. Ethiopian fare is usually far more spicy, and of a different texture than American, and it takes some getting used to. Evan Maxfield has said that, “If it wasn’t for the Coca-Cola, I probably never would have survived there.” And, while that might have been an exaggeration, it does call for an acquired taste to eat the local food.
There are, however, restaurants in the capital city of Addis Ababa where Turkish, Armenian, Italian, and other cuisines can be found. There is a place or two that, in Evan Maxfield’s opinion, “makes the best French fries that can be found anywhere, made from freshly fried potatoes.” Mango and avocado mixed fruit juice is “to die for” and only cost 50-80 American cents per glass.
In regards to the variety of food at the capital, Evan Maxfield mentioned that, “Most of where I spend my time, you don’t get any of that.” In a lot of the places where MAI staff travel, they have to eat the local food in conditions that are lacking modern standards. Cafés are no cleaner inside than out, with dirt floors and open doorways.
In one mud hut, Evan Maxfield chanced upon a lady brewing alcohol in clay jugs that was to be used as a medicine drink to fight off parasites. Travelers are encouraged to pack Cipro with them, which is an antibiotic used to help treat multiple types of possible bacterial infections, and to take malaria medicine. While mosquitoes are no more rampant in Ethiopia than in the United States, it is better to be on the side of caution.