Traditional Food In Eritrea - Updated 2022

traditional food in eritrea

Planning a trip to this East African country? Neighbored by Ethiopia, Sudan, and the Red Sea, one cannot call a visit to Eritrea complete without tasting its food. Hot, flavorful and fragrant, Eritrean food is truly a party on your taste-buds! Heavily influenced by Ethiopian and Italian cuisine, you will find surprising combinations of spices with pasta. The staple food eaten by the people of this land is healthy and easy on your pocket. Taste the best Injera bread which carries curries like Zigni, Alicha birsen, and Shiro wonderfully. Start your day feasting on some Kitcha Fitfit and end your nights with a glass of Suwa. Even though you get an amazing cup of cappuccino here, thanks to the Italian influence over the region, we recommend you take part in the traditional coffee drinking ceremony at least once! Read this list to know more about the top 10 traditional foods of Eritrea.

1. Zigni (beef stew)

beef stew
Source: Photo by Flickr user jeffreyw used under CC BY 2.0

If one dish had to define Eritrean cuisine, Zigni would be it. Rich, meaty and flavorful, this stew is the staple fare of the locals. The base is a spice mix, known as ‘berbere’ which is simmered in tomatoes for a long time to let the flavours develop. Variations of this dish depends on the meat used. The most popular addition is beef, followed by other meats such as mutton (lamb), chicken and even vegetables. Do try this at one of the numerous cafes in the capital city Asmara.

2. Injera (flatbread)

Inejra in Eritrea
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user John Besi used under CC BY-SA 3.0

The best way to eat Zigni would be to scoop it up with a piece of Injera! Imagine a thin, round, fluffy pancakes big enough to fit more than six different types of curries! Usually served on a large plate, Injera is the food which brings people together as they sit around the plate and eat it. Made out of Teff or Sorghum flour, Injera is naturally gluten-free and light on the stomach.

3. Alicha birsen (lentil curry)

Hearty African Spiced Red Lentil Soup
Source: Photo by user Cayobo used under CC BY 2.0

Vegetarians and vegans need not miss out on the spicy food of Eritrea! Alicha birsen is a lentil curry made with the famous berbere spice mix. Simmered with onions and tomatoes, this plant-based stew is extremely flavorful and loved by the people of Eritrea.

4. Pasta

Source: Needpix

Eritrea has a long history with Italy and the Italian influence is obvious when it comes to the food as well as the architecture of the region. Pasta, pizzas and lasagna are all easily available here. There are many cafes which serve traditional Italian food with an African twist! So get some gelato and wander the colourful streets of the capital city Asmara.

5. Suwa and Mes (traditional beverages)

Source: Photo by user Mike Cotterill used under CC0

Be sure to try the local alcoholic beverages at Eritrea. Suwa is made by brewing fermented millets and various grains. This beverage has a truly unique taste, which is quite unforgettable. Mes is made with sweetened honey and pairs wonderfully with the cuisine of the region.

6. Shiro (chickpea stew)

Taita and shiro
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Temesgen Woldezio... used under CC BY-SA 2.5

This is another delicious, soul-warming vegetarian option from the Eritrean region. Shiro is a thick, almost paste-like stew made from powdered chickpeas. Think of it as an elevated hummus, spiced by the quintessential berbere. It usually has onions, garlic, and tomatoes mixed in. It is a low-cost option for many families.

7. Ga'at (porridge)

Ga'at food
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Stefan Alfons Tze... used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ga'at is an easily digestible food made using coarsely ground cornmeal. The meal is hydrated with some water until it thickens, forming something similar to polenta. It is then served on a plate with a hole in the middle, quite resembling a volcano! A bubbling mixture of clarified butter and spices are poured into the hole, to add depth to the dish. The final touches are dollops of fresh yoghurt around the cake to cool down the palate.

8. Kitcha Fitfit (bread)

Kitcha fit fit
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user [Unknown] used under CC BY-SA 2.5

Typically breakfast food, Kitcha Fitfit is the best way to make use of any leftovers. The dish is made from torn up pieces of Injera bread or the unleavened Kitcha itself. The pieces are cooked with onions and clarified butter in the local favourite berbere spice. Each household has its own variation of this dish.

9. Doro Wat (chicken stew)

Spicy chicken 'n' eggs
Source: Photo by Flickr user « RWεnα » used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Being one of the most famous African foods, Doro Wat truly deserves to be on the list. Like all dishes originating from Eritrea, Doro Wat too is cooked in the berbere spice mix. The stew has an entire chicken in it, in the usual base of tomatoes and onions which are simmered for a long time to lend their flavour to the dish. It is commonly served as an accompaniment to Injera bread. Boiled eggs are the final touch and add a dash of colour to the otherwise fiery red stew!

10. Coffee

Traditional Eritrean-style coffee from my favorite restaurant up the road
Source: Photo by Flickr user McKay Savage used under CC BY 2.0

You probably reach for your cup of coffee first thing in the morning. Apart from ordering a cup at your favourite cafe or brewing a pot at home, we don’t give coffee a second thought. That changes when you sit for a traditional Eritrean coffee ceremony. The locals take their coffee drinking very seriously. It is truly a privilege to be part of such a ceremony since it is usually meant for relatives and friends. Grass and a few wildflowers are spread out on the ground where people are to be seated. The woman of the household usually has the honour of conducting the ceremony. Fresh green beans are first roasted over a flame until the characteristic smell of the coffee is achieved. Then it is ground and steeped in liquid over a flame. When the brew is ready to be drunk, the hostess pours it using a special jug into multiple cups. The pouring is truly a delight to watch. She starts pouring in the first cup and does not lift her hand up to stop the flow until the last cup has been filled.

Travel to Eritrea and experience its food and culture

Eritrea is one of the very few cities that is untouched by the influence of social media. Visiting the country is truly a rare experience, with amazing islands and attractions to explore. We hope this comprehensive list of traditional foods help you prepare for your culinary journey there!

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A traveller who loves experiencing new cultures and trying new food. Can be found wandering around the streets of a new city, with a camera in one hand and souvenirs in another.

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