Eritrean food habits vary regionally. In the highlands, injera is the staple diet and eaten daily among the Tigrinya. Made out of teff, wheat or sorghum, injera resembles a spongy, slightly sour pancake. At mealtime, people share food from a large tray placed in the centre of a low dining table. Numerous injera are layered on this tray and topped with various spicy stews. The head of the family says a prayer and people break into the section of injera in front of them, tearing off pieces and dipping them into the stews. Eritreans use only the right hand for eating and consider it rude to lick one's fingers or let them touch the lips.

The stews to accompany injera are usually made from beef, mutton or vegetables. Recently, fish was introduced to the Eritrean diet and is becoming more popular because of its wide availability and low cost. Most Eritreans, with the exception of the Saho, like their food hot and spicy. Berbere, a kind of dried chili pepper, accompanies almost all dishes. Stews include zigni, which is made of beef; alicha which is made without berbere; and shiro, a puree of various legumes. Other dinner accompaniments include samboosa, a filo pastry filled with meat and deep fried, and mushabak, a round, woven sweet-pastry, also deep fried.

In the lowlands, the main dish is akelet, a porridge-like dish made from wheat flour dough. A ladle is used to scoop out the top, which is filled with berbere and butter sauce and surrounded by milk or yogurt. A small piece of dough is broken and then used to scoop up the sauce.

Tea can be considered Eritrea's national drink, consumed by most people at least twice a day. In the lowlands, tea is spicy and made with dried ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Eritreans also love strong coffee, which when time permits, is served using a coffee ceremony at home.

  Injera (Flatbread)

1 tsp dry yeast
600 ml warm water
960 ml flour
1 tsp baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying


In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, then add the flour and mix well. Let the mixture stand at room temperature overnight (for two nights if the room is cold). Stir in the baking powder and let stand 10 minutes. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil. Add 120 ml of the batter and fry over low heat for one to two minutes. When bubbles appear in the batter, cover the skillet for 15 seconds. Uncover, and turn out the bread onto a plate. Fry the remaining batter the same way, cooking on one side only. Serve the injera at room temperature with a meat or vegetable dish.

  Did you know?
Eritreans will commonly scoop up food and put it in the mouth of a loved one or guest. The act is a sign of affection.