The Texture of Injera

Ethiopia 2014

By Nicole Melancon

August 08, 2014

Also published by ThirdEyeMom

On my first night in Addis Ababa, I was introduced to the main staple of Ethiopian food: Injera. Injera is a sponge-like, sourdough bread made from teff that looks like a giant textured pancake and is used to scoop up different types of usually spicy Ethiopian stews called wat. Although I have dined at Ethiopian restaurants before in the States, I was truly looking forward to the real thing in Ethiopia. I find that generally ethnic food is best and spiciest when you have it in the motherland.

Injera is the traditional meal of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea and is exceedingly healthy as it is full of iron thanks to the teff grain. It is made by combining teff flour with water and the mixture is fermented for several days giving it its sourdough base. Once the mixture has completed this process, it is baked on a large clay plate called a mittad over a hot fire and formed into a spongy, big pancake.

When you dine at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant or home, the first thing the waitress or host does is brings over a large bowl of warm water and soap to the guests to wash your hands. Since Ethiopian food is shared and everyone eats from the same big plate, having clean hands and using only your right hand while eating is proper etiquette.

The injera is spread out on a large platter with a few pieces ready for to grab.

Then the various wats (either vegetarian or meat spicy stews) are poured on top of the injera one at a time.

A chickpea wat with egg.

Plates of injera and wat can be quite colorful like this large vegetarian platter we ordered at a restaurant in Addis. It was as good as it looks!

A gorgeous vegetarian meal we had at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant.

It takes time, patience and practice to learn how to tear off a piece of injera and scoop up the wat all using only one hand. To remind oneself not to make the embarrassing mistake of using your left hand, it is best to rest it flat across your thigh.

On our last day in Ethiopia, our translators surprised us with an invitation for a special  lunch at one of their friends’ homes in Addis. This was a special treat as we were going to eat a traditional Oromo meal that is generally only served on holidays and cannot be found at a restaurant.

We arrived a little past noon and filled the house. Our gracious hosts performed the hand washing ceremony for our large group and we gathered around small little colorful woven tables called mesobs where we would be served the food. Colorful hand-woven baskets are also used quite frequently for serving.

Tables are low at Ethiopian restaurants and homes. Here is a woven basket used for serving. Mesobs are made in the same fashion however are about 3-4 feet high and work as a table. This photo was taken at an Ethiopian restaurant.
As we talked and waited for our meal, a cook began the long process of roasting coffee beans for traditional Ethiopian coffee. When the beans were ready, she boiled the water.

Boiling water for coffee.

Even in a middle class home in Addis, kitchens are often not inside the home. To the left of the photo is the giant mittad used for making injera.

After an hour of socializing our special meal was presented. At first glance, it looked like an enormous pan of chocolate brownies! But on closer examination, we learned it is a type of thicker injera that is covered with sauces to make a special Oromo food that for foreigners is like an Ethiopian pizza.

First comes the special Oromo injera.

Next comes a kind of cheese wat.

Then comes the chickpea wat.

To top it off, special deadly but delicious butter is poured over it.

And hot spices are added to those who dare.

The finishing result: A delicious, extremely messy injera pie!

You can imagine how insanely messy our hands were trying to eat this delightful meal!

After our incredibly good meal, it was time for some freshly popped popcorn.

And then for the coffee. Strong, rich and savory.


It was our last day in Ethiopia and I felt honored to have dined inside an Ethiopian home. It was a meal I certainly will never forget!

I was in Ethiopia in June as a reporting fellow with the International Reporting Project. To see all my stories from the trip, click here.