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Eritrean Cuisine

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Eritrea - Cooking and Food Edit

In the Eritrean cuisine one can find a variety of bread recipes. Generally bread is the base of every meal. Injera, a flatbread made from teff, wheat or sorghum, is the most common ingredient for every meal. Injera is used both for serving platter and as a utensil: you may break it in tiny pieces and use them to pinch up food that’s been placed on top of a layer of the bread and served on a large circular plate. Another mode of consuming injera is to break it in small pieces and scoop up the stew or the soup. Kitcha is another type of bread very commonly used in Eritrean cuisine and it is usually made from wheat flour. People in Eritrea prefer spicy dishes; the Eritrean cuisine is heavy on condiments like cardamom, basil, ginger, hot chili powder, garlic, and onion. Legumes are also a very important part of every meal, whether they are served in the form of stew or wet.

Overview of Eritrean Cuisine HistoryEdit

Eritrea is located in Northeast Africa, on the southwestern shore of the Red Sea, north of Ethiopia and Djibouti and south-east of Sudan. Due to the fact that Eritrea was colonized and occupied by Arabs, Turks, Italians, the British and Ethiopians, the country has integrated many of these countries' culinary influences. However, the staples remain traditional and include among other things: qitcha (unleavened flatbread), khobz (leavened flatbread), gaat and thxni (thick porridge made of roast flour and water), sherbe (runny porridge made from the roast flour of various grains, water and cow- or goat-milk) and injera or thaita (a crepe made of leavened/fermented batter consisting of the flour of various grains, water and a natural leavening agent). Although some might argue that pasta has become an Eritrean staple since colonial times, this is limited to the urban areas.

Eritrea is a largely arid country, consisting of less than 10% arable land which has been further diminished by climate changes (recurrent droughts), deforrestation and erosion caused by war and the use of antiquated farming methods by an increasing population. Nonetheless, the traditional crops in Eritrea consist mainly of cereals which have been cultivated in the land for millenia such as barley, thaff, wheat, sorghum, millet, and the newcomer crop of maize.

It is these grains that are then made into the above staples as well as a type of unfiltered beer known as suwa. The other of the two traditional alcoholic beverages in Eritrea is mies (a honeywine like mead). Winemaking in Eritrea has largely been the affair of the ancient orthodox church where it is known as nebit. It has not traditionally been a social drink but one reserved for holy communion. Modern Eritrea relies on imports for much of its minute wine-consumption, although there was a wine-making industry in Eritrea during colonial times under the brand name of Fennili (now defunct). Today, Eritrea makes it's own spirits such as Areqi (an aniseed liquor like Metaxa/Ouzo/Sambuca/Pastisse) and Vermouth.

Other ancient, millenial yet common crops are multi-use oilseeds such as sesame, cotton and flax, the latter two also used for producing textiles. The most common fruits and vegetables historically have been: dates, prickly pears (locally known as beles), watermelons, grapes, lemons/lime, oranges, bananas, onions (incl. garlic), leafy grean vegetables ex. mustard greens, beans/legumes and pulses, which were later complemented by chili-peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya, guava and many others. Fruits are eaten fresh as they are, whereas vegetables are cooked in stir-fries and the legumes and pulses are sometimes boiled, dried, roast and ground into powder-blends for preservation. Some fruits are dried for preservation, such as raisins (zebib).

The most common spice in food by far is berbere which is a powder blend of dried, roasted and ground ingredients such as chili-peppers, black pepper, onions, garlic, ginger and other spices. Although the concept of "dessert" is unusual in Eritrea, drinking coffee is an ancient ceremonial and social event and coffee is another crop that is endemic to the region. Drinking (black, imported) tea is also common and the tea is almost always mixed with whole cardamom seeds, cloves and cinnamon.

Meat is a luxury in Eritrea, but is nonetheless a central component of any traditional dish to be served at a formal event.

The preferred meats are chicken, lamb, goat and beef while fish consumption is quite low, despite the country's long coast on the Red Sea, and mostly limited to the coastal fishing settlements and urban populations with modern cold storage facilities. The eating of crustaceans may have occurred in pre-historic times but from antiquity up until modern colonial times, it was and still is a non-traditional novelty. Among the highland Tigrigna people, meat is cooked in stews (zighni and tsebhi), stirfries (qulwa and alitcha) and broths (mereq), although qulwa is rarely made with chicken. The entrails (again, excluding chicken) of a freshly slaughtered animal are also cooked in a specialty dish known as dulot. Meat is preserved by cutting it into strips, rubbing it in salt and sun-drying, known locally as quantha. This is mainly used in stews.

Dairy products stem from cow-, goat- and more rarely; camel's milk. Cow- and goat milk is also churned into a special kind of clarified butter similar to ghee known in the Eritrean highlands as thesmi, which is prepared with other ingredients adding flavor before filtration, such as onions and other spices. Non-spiced thesmi is known as lkhay and is not a food but a hair treatment product/conditioner applied by traditional women. Cow milk is also processed into fresh yoghurt called rug-o and cottage cheeze known as ajjbo in the highlands.

Cuisines of Eritrea Edit

Map of Eritrea

Map of Eritrea- Click to enlarge

Special Equipment for Eritrean Cooking Edit

Most Eritrean dishes don’t require you to purchase any special tools. However, having a coffee grinder helps with roasting and grinding spices and maximizes their volatile oils, which, in turn, provides your food with more flavor.

Ranging from cake pans, can openers, colanders, egg rings, poachers and holders, food dishers and portioners , food pans and food containers to other kitchen utensils, such as food scales, food scoops and fryer baskets and accessories, the Eritrean cuisine needs a diverse cooking equipment set in order to produce the most sophisticated Eritrean dishes. You should consider insulated food carriers if you are transporting the food and a full set of kitchen linens and uniforms if you wish to look like a pro. Here are a few other items that will come handy while cooking Eritrean food: juicers, kitchen knives, kitchen slicers, and kitchen thermometers, measuring cups and measuring spoons, miscellaneous utensils, mixing bowls and skimmers and strainers. Essential utensils like serving spoons, spatulas, forks, turners, scrapers and tongs should also be part of your cooking “arsenal”.

Eritrean Food Traditions and Festivals Edit

There are many traditions and festivals held in Eritrea. The national holidays include The New Year’s Day (January 1), Ldet or the Christmas Day (January 7), Dhu al-Xijjah (last day January 9), Muxarram or the Islamic New Year (January 10), Thimqet or Epiphany (January 19), The beginning of Roman Catholic Lent (February 6), The city of Massawa's day of liberation (Feb 8-9th), The beginning of Eastern Orthodox Lent (March 9), Roman Catholic Easter (March 22), Eastern Orthodox Easter (April 26), Eritrea's Independence Day (May 24), The city of Keren's day of liberation (May 31), Beginning of Ramadan (September 1), Eritrean Orthodox New Year (September 11), Eritrean Orthodox Day of the Holy Cross (September 27), Ramadan ends or Iid al-Fitr (September 30), Eid al-Adha or the festival of sacrifice (December 9) and Roman Catholic Christmas (December 24-25th). When Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Eritreans fast for Lent, they maintain a Vegan diet, with the exception of some Roman Catholics who allow for fish and seafood. The most pious Eastern Orthodox also maintain a (Vegan) fasting calendar which spans over 200 days a year. Moslems abstain from all food and drink during the daylight hours of Ramadan. Pork is forbidden to the moslems and Easten Orthodox.

People in Eritrean Food Edit

  • Are you into Eritrean Cooking and would like to be interviewed?

There are many chefs who creatively use the basic ingredients and cooking methods for traditional Eritrean dishes and create original and delicious food variations. Eritrean chefs are passionate about their traditional dishes and they enjoy presenting them to the foreigners who have never tasted them before. Whether they are cooking dishes that go back in time for centuries or brand new, modern dishes, Eritrean chefs take pride in what they do, and this is readily noticeable in the unforgettable taste of their cooking.

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