One of the most significant things of Ethiopia and Eritrea is the literature, the unique alphabets derived from the ancient language Ge’ez. These two are the only countries in the world that use these distinctive alphabets and follow the Coptic calendar with 13 months, 12 of which comprised of 30 days and the extra month having 5 or 6 days depending on leap year.
What makes Ethiopia even fascinating is that it has over 80 different ethnic group each with its own language, culture and food. In addition, it’s one country where Muslims, Christians, Jews and Pagans coexist in harmony, respecting each other’s belief. With unique customs and traditions, throughout Ethiopia, a new visitor to the country will have plenty to take on. For instance, if we take on food, not only the food is different from one region to another, but it may differ seasonally. It is obvious that religion is an instrumental part of the Ethiopian people and has often dictated nutritional habits.
Say you travel through Ethiopia during the month of March or April, which is for the most part lent season for the Ethiopian Christian Orthodox followers (about 43% of Ethiopia’s population), where they abstain from consuming meat and dairy products until Easter, you may have some difficulty finding a wide range of meat dishes. In urban areas this has changed for the most part because other non-orthodox Christians and Muslims (the other dominant religion there) do not fast during many of the Orthodox lent season and not all Orthodox Christians observe lent. But still, there is a significant change in the food that is consumed and in some remote areas, it will be difficult to find any meat dishes. For example, most butcheries are closed during this time and families prefer serving meat to their guests and will opt out from inviting you for a meal until lent season is over. However, for the vegetarian visitor, it is heaven and amazingly, the vegan option in Ethiopia is limitless.
During this time, restaurants pull out their creativity and fill up the menu with a superb variety of veggie dishes served with Injera. You can eat well virtually anywhere in the country during this time. The normal dish during lent season is “Beyanetu” or known as Veggie Combo, which consists samples of Gomen (collard greens), Atakilt (cabbage, potatoes & carrots), Kai Ser (beet root), Misser Wot (red lentils), Kik Alicha (split peas in turmeric sauce), Buticha (chick pea dish), and Azifa (whole lentils with mustard) and so on. There is the popular Shouro (chick pea dish simmered with garlic and ginger), but it’s during these times that you see exotic veggie dishes such as Siljo, a fermented puree made out of Bakela (fava beans flour) mixed with sunflower seed milk, mustard, spices and herbs, Suff Fitfit (crumbled pieces of Injera with sunflower seed milk, mixed with onions, green peppers & tomatoes) or Telba Fitfit (pieces of injera mixed with flax seed puree). The options are endless. The variety of different legume stews, curries, vegetables and side dishes like stuffed jalapenos makes parishioners guilty of indulging such delicious, healthy, natural and divine food and still call it Lent.
We want to wish our Ethiopian Christian Orthodox followers a wonderful lent season.
Recipe for Siljo an exotic fasting dish:
 Ethiopian Orthodox 43.5%, Muslim 33.9%, Protestant 18.5%, traditional 2.7%, Catholic 0.7%, other 0.6% (CIA The World Fact Book, 2007 est.) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/et.html