The most vegetarian-friendly capital in Africa

Ethiopia, the land of extraordinary and breathtaking landscapes, has long been famous, even without Bob Geldof’s help.  Dating back more than 3,000 years, Abyssinia and its stories of Queen of Sheba, and deeply rooted religious beliefs have had a resounding and lasting influence on Ethiopia’s rich culture, traditions and history.

With the greatest water reserves in Africa, known as the “Water Tower of Africa,” Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is one of the world’s highest capitals at 2,300 meters above sea level.  A cosmopolitan metropolis, reaping the rewards from foreign investments and growing local enterprises, Addis Ababa is home to a dynamic restaurant industry, where the flavours of the world are well represented including some of the best vegetarian cuisine that farm-fresh organic produce can make.

Heavily influenced by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Ethiopia’s culinary traditions have transformed a diet of characteristically spicy and meaty dishes into one that’s also friendly for vegetarians.  According to the 2007 national census, nearly 60% of Ethiopia’s population are Orthodox Christians, where fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year, aside from the Lenten season are mandatory.  Even on non-fasting days, majority of restaurants will have some delicious vegetarian options, as many as 15 different dishes!

Ethiopian vegetarian dishes are generally cooked with very little oil and either are Wots (sauces) or Atkilts (vegetables).  Some of the sauces like Misir, pureed split red lentils in a berbere sauce, can be quite spicy but mild options are always available.  Cooking techniques favoured are blanching, stewing and sautee-ing ingredients.  Layers of flavours from sautéed onions and unique blends of Ethiopian spices transforms what usually may seem boring – vegetables – into a delicious feast.

New to Ethiopian cuisine?  Order a sampler, Bayenetu, which is a collection of meat-free dishes served over a plate of big round injera. The dishes are a bit different restaurant to restaurant, but all Bayenetu will have some delicious and aromatic Shiro, spooned in the center of the injera, steaming hot.

Whether you are a vegetarian or an admirer of Ethiopian cuisine or just a diner who wants to try something healthy; head over to your nearest Ethiopian restaurant, or better yet, Addis Ababa and dine in Africa’s vegetarian haven.

Here are some of the most popular Ethiopian vegetarian dishes:

Aterkik Alitcha – split peas prepared with light sauce  ***MY PERSONAL FAVOURITE***
Atkilt Wot – cabbage, carrots, potatoes simmered in sauce
Atkilt Salata – boiled potatoes, jalapeno mixed in salad dressing
Buticha – chickpea dip mixed with lemon juice
Inguday Tibs – mushroom sauteed with onions
Fasolia – string beans and carrots sauteed in caramelized onion
Gomen – collard green cooked to perfection with spices
Misir Wot – pureed split red lentil are simmered berbere sauce
Misir Alitcha – pureed split red lentil are simmered in mild sauce
Shimbra Asa – chickpeas flour dumplings & cooked in wot
Shiro Alitcha – mild split peas are milled together & slow cooked
Shiro Wot – split peas are milled together and slow cooked
Salata – Ethiopian salad, dressing: lemon, jalapeno & spices
Timatim Selata – tomatoe salad, onions, jalapeno & lemon juice