Ethiopia - A Vegan's Delight

Something terrible happened last December… I got sick, twice! I had two pretty nasty bacterial infections that wore down my defences and also my ability to digest lactose. Yes, I became lactose intolerant. For someone who things that cheese is pretty much the best thing in the world, this was devastating. I wasn’t even aware that it’s possible to develop such an allergy. It is, so stay healthy!

Luckily for me, Ethiopia is one of, if not the best country in Africa for someone with lactose intolerance, as well as vegans and vegetarians, and those with gluten intolerance. Here’s why…

It’s fasting time in Ethiopia. My devout Ethiopian friends are going crazy – they’re foregoing animal products (meat and dairy) and alcohol for the whole two months that lead up to Fasika (Ethiopian Easter – this year it’s celebrated on the 29th April, my birthday!). For 250 days of the year they are vegan.

The largest proportion of Ethiopians practice Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity – it is one of the few pre-colonial Christian Churches in Sub-Saharan Africa. Ethiopians are known to be one of the most religious peoples in the world. They take fasting seriously – every Wednesday and Friday is a fasting day, as well as the time leading up to big religious celebrations.

This long history of fasting has, of course, led to some pretty creative culinary alternatives. Yesterday I had dairy-free chocolate cake. The week before I had the choice between dairy-free apple pie and tiramisu. There’s a handful of gelaterias around the city, each offering a selection of milk-free ice creams. Every café has fasting macchiatos on the menu – coffee blended with soy milk, almond milk or Coffee-mate creamer.

Beyaynetu - fasting mixed plate

The main savoury dish eaten throughout the fasting period is known as ‘beyaynetu’. It consists of the standard (gluten-free) flat ‘bread’, injera. On top of this come a number of wots (stews) made out of lentils (meser wot) and chickpeas (fasting shiro), flavoured to the max with an array of delicious spices. Toppings change from restaurant to restaurant, but you might find beetroot, potato, green beans, cabbage, tomato, and of course, the Ethiopian staple, chilli!

I’m sure many of you have been to an Ethiopian restaurant. In fact, it’s become quite hipster. But beware if you’re gluten-intolerant and eating injera outside of Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government limits the export of teff to regulate the price for locals. Because of this many Ethiopian restaurants outside of the motherland add wheat to meet demand, so beware!

So whether you’ve a vegetarian or vegan, or someone that suffers (it really is suffering!) from lactose or gluten intolerance, or even if you’re an outright carnivore, Ethiopian food has something to offer all of you!

Tegabino - simmering chickpea stew


I'm Hannah - a communications consultant and avid traveller, based in Ethiopia. This is a travel blog about Africa, and beyond!

I hope that my travel exploits inspire you to get out there and see the world!

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