Vegan Tips in Ethiopia

Finding vegans and living as a vegan in Ethiopia is not as in the western world. 

Many people don't even know or understand it or have never heard of the word vegan. Dining on vegan food outside of home can get to be less difficult for locals who are ready to take compromises with inconveniences that come with finding vegan food at the lowliest places as last resort when vegan food is not available in their vicinity especially in small towns out of the capital Addis. These places might not appeal hygienically or visually or in terms of attracting huge attention to the locals from foreigners or anyone whom they consider to be well off to dine in these places. 

As a foreigner, Ethiopia is not bad compared to many other places. It can even be called an easy amd very cheao place to practice plant based diet. It gets even easier and cheaper however to be vegan here for anyone cooking their own food so as to take advantage of the very cheap price of fresh and more often organically grown fruits and vegetables - much cheaper than meat and other animal derivatives. 

And in restaurants, you will not be confused or misunderstood if you say you'd like to have fasting foods (translation of fasting food into Amharic "yetsom megib") because here in Ethiopia the predominant faith is Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity that that involves in erratic fasting days like on Wednesdays and Fridays and also sometimes long extended fasting seasons. Fasting here is more like eating vegan food which unfortunately does not exclude honey and sometimes fish. Just remind them also that you don't like and honey has almost zero chance of appearing in your food unless in some exceptional cases. In this way you will be understood rather than the more unfamiliar vegan word. But still after you came up with what you needed, it will be a good idea to let your servers know of what vegan diet is and about it so you may help lay the grounds of awareness in our society which we're struggling to do.

Other than the usual Wednesdays and Fridays, the major fasting seasons are from mid February to mid April being the longest named Hudade fasting for 55 days(from February 18 to April 14) ending just before Ethiopian Easter day (April 15), which on the other hand ironically seems like a day in hell for our animal cousins and a verydifficult day for vegans. The difficulty may extend for a few days to two months longer frim Ethiopian Easter day. It could als9 be as horrific right at the beginning of these extended fasting periods. 

Other fasting seasons are, Yegenna tsom  which runs for 44 days from  around November 24 - January 7 ending just before the Ethiopian Christmas/ Genna which is mistly on January 8 with same difficulties  find food and bear the first hand cruelty seen on animals. 

Filseta which is a short 16 days fasting period during the month of August is also a fun time to be around.

The popular local and traditional vegan food choices found in restaurants on the fasting (yetsom) days or beyond are :

beyaynetu- popular platter served with injera and a wide collection of separate traditional stews made of different ingredients like lentils, peas, chick peas , tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, cabbage and many more vegetables with a lot of spicing put all over it.
tegabino- stew cooked with spiced pea flour and other small ingredients served boiling hot with injera
yetsom firfer - a meal made of injera cuttings mixed with spiced red pepper powder and tomato sauce and served with injera or bread . One thing that I learned by eating this food from the many restaurants is that this meal can taste good if cooked in a good way while at other places it can taste equally bad if not cooked by a good cook. Most of the good appearing restaurants serve it good though I could not find one that matches my delicious experience of it at Romina Restaurant at Arat Kilo area just a few meters down the National Museum. 

Injera is a typically Ethiopian traditional fermented thin flat and flexible bread baked from the locally popular and highly nutritious teff (erigratis teff) grain flour and is used to scoop stews with it while eating by hand.

Please take note that Ethiopian food can be spicy and sometimes (anything of red color has a potential to be spicy) because of berbere- chilly and spice blend powder or mitmita-of the ssme type with berbere but higher 8ntensity and only used as side dipping powder option. All are vegan.

Vegan or vegan versions of salads, rice, spaghetti, pasta and its derivatives are also somehow popular there and their vegan choices served with vegetables can also be found in major hotels and restaurants anytime during fasting & non fasting days as well. That is a very good option to check for everytime you are eating out.

It of course would be very good for anyone to travel to Ethiopia within the long fasting seasons. And the good thing is that everyone understands fasting food that it excludes most animal derivatives (meat, milk, milk products and eggs) and take note of this while ordering.

It will be less easy though to find food in the restaurants of cities and towns of Ethiopia if someone happens to be there other than during the long fasting periods and wanted to dine vegan food on the days except on Wednesdays and Fridays. Just keep your need for "asting food or "ye'tsom" food so they would understand your need. But you have to stress the fact that you're not a mouslim hence avoiding Christian labled meat for religious reasons so they won't overlook others like butter, eggs and ethiopian cheese.

This time, meaning while you may seem to be stranded in those non fasting periods especially around the big holydays and just before the beginning of the extended fasting seasons,  it will also be good to consider the option of the many fruit bars and shops conspicuous with the wide range displays of fruits on the outsides of the shops. These places can be heaven for any vegan straying around the country. They are almost always vegan and provide good choices of mostly organic and locally grown fruit juices, smoothies called spress and sometimes or more often these days delicious salads with wide range of healthy ingredients that are very good enough to fill you up with some good food. These fruit shops thrive across many corners of Addis. 

The other choices are, a prominent hotel Taitu hotel (the first hotel in Addis) which is a famous tourist place has a service of vegan buffet everyday at lunch time. On this regard low cost vegan travelers can get cheap accommodation here and take advantage of the vegan food availability and awareness or information on vegan requirements. Beware of local self proclaimed cheating guides approaching at around this hotel though. [TAITU HOTEL SUFFERED FIRE ACCIDENT RECENTLY AND ARE UNLIKELY TO START SERVICE ANYTIME SOON]

Some places around Bole area serve "Yetsom Mahiberawi" all times including non fasting days and can be found especially atlunch times. This contains a wide collection of traditional Ethiopian vegan food choices in one service and one meal can easily satisfy two to three people. 

If you happen to be in Merkato-the largest open air market place in Africa and wanted to dine, try looking for Wanza Restaurant which is like a vegan restaurant with an exception of fish served sometimes. Here, anyone can enjoy most of the traditional Ethiopian vegan cuisines as well as the popular international cuisines like foods cooked from pasta, rice and vegetables anytime except on Sundays when the whole marketplace stays closed. 

Romina Restaurant at Arat Kilo area just a few meters down the National Museum and with another branch in Kasanchise menaheria can also offer good choice of vegan foods most of the time with exceptionally tasty vegan "yetsom firfir" with red hot, peppery or spicy taste which is tolerated or admired locally as well as other known vegan meals cooked from rice, pasta and vegetables can be found also on non fasting times.  A different choice from the sprawling western style burger shops is Kana Burger [NOT SURE IF THEY'RE STILL OPERATING] located at around Bole Tele Medihanialem area of Addis serving vegan/yetsom burger made of tofu among other non vegan choices with a good choice of fruit juices to accompany your tofu burger. We also have burger shops following in to the foot steps of Kana burger so vegetable burgers can also be found in the cafes and burger shops around the Bole area. 

The best market plac to buy vegetables for vegans to cook at home is "Atakilt tera" around Piassa area on your way to Merkato. Even though this big place does not look tidy and appears to be chaotic, you can find a wide range of vegetables and fruits to choose from at below half the prices you would find in other places. The other vegetables market place which is rapidly gaining popularity is the one located at around Bole Rwanda area of Addis with some exotic vegetables found as well as locally processed tofu.  A network of a  few shopping centers running in Addis by the name Shi Solomon also have good variety of vegetables and imported processed vegan foods. Imported tofu and other vegan friendly processed food choices like soya milk and others can be found at Shoa Shopping Center located on the famous Bole Road/ Africa Avenue around Wello Sefer area.

Finally, something worthy to mention is that if you find it difficult to find vegan food in restaurants on non fasting days, it is sometimes possible to tell your cases to the chefs and restaurant managers to arrange a vegan/fasting food for you from their available resources. If brave and courageous enough, anyone can gcome out satisfied in this way. And traditionally with the hospitality and receptivity that people show towards foreigners in the Ethiopian society, it could be easier to have the restaurants arranged for your food in this way. There is a high possibility to get away with at least a meal of  "tegabino"  or  "yetsom firfer"  in this way .

The worst times to be here in Ethiopia as a vegan are on the holydays for orthodox Christians and Muslims as well. It is difficult to describe the level of brutality and the lack of availability of vegan food choices on these days especially on the Christian holy days except in the fruit shops or bars that come handy at this time and are in abundant numbers across Addis and other towns. The days just before when  the long fasting seasons are about to start are also bad times for our animal friends and for vegans though not as harsh as the ending days which are usually on holy days which can be said as not holy days but brutal days or cursed days in my opinion. Generally the two months from April 15 are the most non vegan times here. New year's day in Ethiopia ironicslly celebrated on 9/11 anniversary day can also be as brutal though with no significant extended fasting period to precede it.

Please also take note that right after Ethiopian Easter marking the end of the long Hudade fasting season, fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays is not held for the next two months and get prepared for the other means mentioned earlier for these days as well.

This is what I have for now.  Vegan dining tips en route to and major travel destination cities and towns of the country as well as some specific routine products like sugar and beer will be researched and reviews will be given here or on a planned future website as my abilities  (regarding financial and time restrictions) dictate to deal with it specifically. 

Meanwhile, I'll stay open if there's anything else needed from vegans planning to travel to Ethiopia. 

Ameseginalehu (thank you in Amharic)

Until a website is published 

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