What is Eritrean Cuisine and what should you eat in Eritrea? Eritrea gets a lot of flack, some call it the North Korea of Africa among other nasty things, but there is much more to the place than stereotypes!
Eritrea is one of the youngest countries in earth, has an awesome national parade, the oldest train network in Africa, weirdly good alcohol and Eritrean cuisine is eclectically very good!
What’s the score with Eritrean cuisine?
When you talk about the cuisine of Eritrea then there are essentially two equally important influences and they both happen to be two of the best cuisines in the world, namely Ethiopian and Italian. There are of course uniquely Eritrean elements, but when you visit be prepared for lots of injera, pasta, ice-cream and even Eritrean Ferna Branca! Oh we will get to that later!
Eritrean food vs Ethiopian food – what’s the difference?
Generally they are very similar as stated, but again subtle differences. Ethiopian food uses more butter, while Eritrea employ more tomatoes, partially due to teh Italian influence.
They both though love injera, as do I! Is there any difference between Eritrean injera and Ethiopian injera? It is hard to say, but at least in my experience Eritrean still injera is less sour and more bread-like (yes I know it is bread.
To read about Ethiopian food in Phnom Penh click here.
What is the Italian food like in Eritrea?
The Italians might have been brutal colonial overlords in Eritrea, but they built a good railway and left some great food. Almost very restaurant has injera and, or Italian dishes like spaghetti bolognese, or even a good old lasagne.
And they did not leave their influence there, oh no! At times Asmara can feel like you are in Rome with Pizzerias, gelatin shops and of course cafes and coffee everywhere!
To read about Street Food in Rome click here.
Oh and they have Eritrean Ferna Branca, I know I have mentioned it before and mention again in this article I will.
Is Eritrean food Vegan and vegetarian friendly?
Meat fish, butter and non-vegan pasta tend to dominate things, but Eritrea is also relatively poor, so meat is not the be all and end all. Eritrean cuisine is very bread, vegetable and lentil heavy, so if you explain your needs to your hosts you will generally be OK.
Better still join tour and let them deal with it for you. To read about Eritrean tours click here.
Can you drink in Eritrea?
Eritrea is religiously diverse, but also ruled as a one party state by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front, who are left-leaning, therefore alcohol is very much a go! The EPLF were previously called the ELF, they did not make the same mistake as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and duly changed their name.
Again I digress……
There is a home-brewed beer type thing called Suwa which is quite an queried taste, but worth trying regardless. It tends to be 2-5 percent and is quite sour.
When it comes to other drinks Eritrean cuisine is a bit 1984esque (remember victory gin).
The beer and liquor is all made by the state owned Amara Brewery, who as well as making a very Italian styled lager also make a fine stout. Coffee is also a huge deal with there even being a coffee drinking ceremony if you like that kind of thing. Eritreans have bene drinking coffee for eons, but the Italians have certainly made their mark here. Therefore you can have both local and “foreign” coffee.
And the Eritrean Bar Scene?
This is definitely one of the weirder elements of the country and certainly one that merely adds to quite how unique Eritrea and Asmara are. There’s a real pub scene and despite the reputation of the country ofr being controlled people really do let their hair down. Asmara very much a night life and you can drink and dance to your hearts content! I remember having one particularly good party night here…..
Eritrean cuisine – what about the liquor
According to the Asmara Wikipedia entry;
“The productive capability is of about 50,000 bottles monthly. The liquors most requested are: anise, cognac, fernet, gin, and zibib”Wikipedia
And that is where I feel it gets all 1984, it reminds me of victory gin! Usually I would try for a gin and tonic, but often there was no tonic, but there was always an Eritrean ferna….
Enough already – what is Eritrean Ferna Branca?
It’s just Eritrean Ferna Branca made by Asmara brewery, you either love it, or hate it much like its Italian cousin. I love it, particularly for breakfast.
And that’s the lowdown on what to eat and indeed drink when sampling the cuisine of Eritrea!