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Dining in Ethiopia -- and Enjoying Their Secret Gluten-Free Staple Anywhere

Teff chipsToday we welcome Valerie Bowden as our guest blogger. Valerie has traveled extensively to Ethiopia and experienced the creative ways they use teff, Ethiopia's indigenous grain, which just happens to be gluten free -- and loaded with nutrition! She recently launched Eat Dirkosh, a teff-based snack chip company. She'll share some advice on eating Ethiopian food anywhere, including tips for gluten free diners...and she even shares some restaurant recommendations for dining in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

Almost everyone has dreamed of going on an African vacation filled of safari animals, exotic cultures, and beautiful people. While it may seem overwhelming deciding which country to visit on the continent, one of the best ones to choose is Ethiopia. This beautiful and very safe East African country is known for its hospitable locals, gorgeous landscapes, and its delicious coffee.  Often referred to as “The Land of 13 Months of Sunshine,” Ethiopia boasts more than just great weather though. It's also a gluten-free paradise. 

Teff Grain

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.44.22 PMEthiopia's gluten-free pride and joy is teff grain, which is native only to Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea. While teff is the tiniest grain in the world, it's a nutritional powerhouse. It boasts an impressive amount of all the amino acids and is also high in iron, calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins.

Teff has been a staple in the Ethiopian diet for centuries. Ethiopians eat it for three meals a day by grinding it into a fermented pancake called injera which they eat alongside meat, legumes, and vegetables. As the country continues to develop, locals have turned to Western snacks such as cakes and breads made with wheat flour, but fortunately traditional food can still be found in abundance.

Dining Options

Injera dinnerThose staying in the capital of Addis Ababa will have plenty of options for dining gluten-free. Almost any traditional Ethiopian meal will be void of gluten. For those wanting meat, a common dinner is a chicken dish called Doro Wot or a beef meal referred to as Tibs. Both will be served with injera. Vegans will have no problems either as common legume dishes such as Shiro or Messer are served anywhere. The most beloved traditional restaurant in the city, Yod Abyssina, features some of best cultural food and dancing.

Those craving more Western meals can be served rice dishes or simply meat with vegetables at any international hotel. There are also several new places that combine typical Western food with the power of teff. For example, the restaurant Antica makes pizzas and pastas out of teff grain while a popular bakery named Mul Mul, makes several kinds of gluten-free breads, cookies, scones, and croissants.


Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 1.44.41 PMThose with Celiac Disease will still need to show some caution. Many people in Ethiopia are not familiar with the term “gluten-free” and may mislead your dining choices by accident. Even if they do understand, they may not realize the severity of your condition so it's important you or a translator conveys to them just how sick it will make you. Lastly, if you visit the countryside, be aware that injera made outside of Addis Ababa is sometimes baked with teff and wheat flour to save money. It will be important to ask someone before consuming it if any other flour besides teff has been used. 


Teff Around the World

Fortunately, for those unable to travel to Ethiopia, teff is making its way into health stores across Europe and North America. It is often found in whole grain form and can be made into porridge or added to soups, proving even more that teff is a versatile grain not just for those in Ethiopia or those with Celiac, but for the whole world. 

Have you visited Ethiopia? What was your experience like? Have you dined at any Ethiopian restaurants while traveling anywhere around the world? We'd love it if you'd submit any reviews of Ethiopian restaurants -- in Ethiopia or elsewhere -- to GlutenFreeTravelSite so other gluten free folks can find out about some of these unique dining experiences.