Eritrean cuisine is a fusion of Eritrea‘s native culinary traditions, arising from social interchanges with other regions. The local cuisine shares similarities with those of other countries in the Horn of Africa and Nile Valley, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan.
Eritrean cuisine shares similarities with surrounding countries’ cuisines; however, the cuisine has its unique characteristics.
The main traditional food in Eritrean cuisine is tsebhi (stew), served with taita (flatbread made from teff, wheat, or sorghum and hilbet (paste made from legumes; mainly lentil and faba beans).
A typical traditional Eritrean dish consists of injera accompanied by a spicy stew, which frequently includes beef, goat, lamb or fish. Overall, Eritrean cuisine strongly resembles that of neighboring Ethiopia, although Eritrean cooking tends to feature more seafood than Ethiopian cuisine on account of its coastal location. Eritrean dishes are also frequently lighter in texture than Ethiopian meals as they tend to employ less seasoned butter and spices and more tomatoes, as in tsebhi dorho.
Additionally, owing to its colonial history, cuisine in Eritrea features more Ottoman and Italian influences than are present in Ethiopian cooking, including more pasta specials and greater use of curry powders and cumin. People in Eritrea likewise tend to drink coffee, whereas sweetened tea is preferred in Somalia. Christian Eritreans also drink sowa (a bitter fermented barley) and mies (a fermented honey beverage), while Muslim Eritreans abstain from drinking alcohol.
Common foods and dishes
Eritrean food habits vary regionally. In the highlands, injera is the staple diet and eaten daily among the Tigrinya. When eating, diners generally share food from a large tray placed in the centre of a low dining table. Numerous pieces of injera are layered on this tray and topped with various spicy stews. Diners break into the section of injera in front of them, tearing off pieces and dipping them into the stews.
The stews that accompany injera are usually made from beef, chicken, lamb, goat, mutton or vegetables. Most Eritreans, with the exception of the Saho, like their food spicy and hot. Berbere, a spice mixture that consists of a variety of common and unusual herbs and spices, accompanies almost all dishes. Stews include zigni, which is made with beef; dorho tsebhi, which is made with chicken; alicha, which is a vegetable dish made without berbere; and shiro, a purée of various legumes.
In the lowlands, the main dish is akelet (also known locally as ga’at), a porridge-like dish made from wheat flour dough. A ladle is used to make an indentation in the dough, which is then filled with a mixture of berbere and melted butter, and surrounded by milk or yogurt. When dining, a small piece of Ga’at is dipped into the berbere and the butter sauce, and then into the milk or yogurt.
- Kitcha fit-fit, a dish made from pieces of a hearty pancake tossed in clarified butter and spices.The pancake is usually made of different types of flour, or dry porridge mixed with water and other sesoning. You can adjust the heat by pouring more or less berbe (the hot spice) on the ktcha when it’s finished. Normally served for breakfast with a side of yogurt or sourmilk.
- Fit-fit, made with torn up pieces of injera and usually leftover stew. It can also be made with a mixture of onions, berbere, tomatoes, jalapeños and butter instead of leftover stews.
Ga’at or akelet, a porridge made of flour and water, served in a bowl with an indentation made in the center where clarified butter and berbere are mixed. Yogurt is normally put on the sides surrounding the ga’at. Ga’at is similar and related to other stif African porridge dishes like Ugali, Pap and Fufu.
- Shahan Ful, sauteed and mashed fava beans, served with onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, cumin, yogurt and olive oil. It is normally eaten with pieces of bread dipped in the dish to scoop out the bean mixture.
- Panettone, due to the Italian influence on Eritrea, this bread is commonly served with tea or during the Coffee ceremony.
Most dishes common to Eritrea are either meat based or vegetable based stews that are served over the spongy, fermented bread Injera
- Tsebhi/Zigni: a spicy stew made with lamb, mutton, cubes of beef or ground beef and berbere
- Dorho: a spicy stew made with berbere and a whole chicken
Qulwa/Tibsi: sauteed meat, onions and berbere served with a sauce
- Alicha: a non-berbere dish made with potatoes, green beans, carrots, green peppers and turmeric
- Shiro: a stew made with ground chickpea flour and onions and tomatoes
- Birsen: birsen translates to lentils; which are often cooked with onions, spices, and tomatoes. This curry can be made with berbere or without berbere.
- Hamli: sauteed spinach, garlic and onions
Suwa is the name for the home-brewed beer common in Eritrea. It is made from roasted corn, barley and other grain and is flavored with gesho, a type of buckthorn leaf. The beverage is often made for celebrations; a sweet honey wine is also commonly served. The coffee ceremony is one of the most important and recognizable parts of Eritrean cultures. Coffee is offered when visiting friends, during festivities, or as a daily staple of life. If coffee is politely declined, then tea (shahee) will most likely be served.
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