Horn of Africa Cuisine Facts and History

The Horn of Africa is a peninsula located in the north-east of the continent, right next to the Arabian Sea. It got its name from the fact that seen from up above, this region resembles the horn of a rhino. Four countries are found in the Horn, and these are Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.

Horn Africa Cuisine
The cuisine of this area is renowned for being one of the most ancient cuisines in the world, especially the one found in Ethiopia and Eritrea. In the rest of the region, several influences can be found in the local cuisine, such as Persian, Arab and Indian influences. A custom in this part of the world, concerning food serving, is to serve food in one single dish for all the meal participants. Also, food is mostly served with the hand, without any other utensils.


Horn of African Cuisine Menu


Breakfast in the Horn of Africa is quite light, consisting in bread made like a pancake, served with tea or coffee, or even stew or soup. The stew is often prepared with the leftovers of yesterday’s dinner. A type of porridge, made with butter and sugar is also served in the morning. Also, fava beans can be boiled and mashed, and seasoned with onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cumin, olive oil and yogurt, and served with bread that is dipped in this paste. Another popular dish would be a large pancake, made with flour and having a layer of eggs, served with honey. Besides tea, simple or milky, or coffee, yogurt is also consumed during the breakfast.


Lunch is more consistent than the breakfast, containing pasta or rice, spiced with various condiments, like cumin, cloves, cardamom, and sage. The pasta is often served with a consistent meat stew and sauce, this dish having obvious Italian influences. Rice, on the other hand, is preferred to be served with bananas. Still, rice is also made with meat and vegetables, in the same pot. Cornmeal is also eaten, prepared with milk, butter and sugar, served with a hole in the middle where a type of stew is placed. Stews are pretty common for lunch, prepared with a wide variety of meats and spices. But dishes without meat are also consumed, such as dishes with lentils or spinach, seasoned with spiced and other vegetables, like onions, tomatoes, or garlic. Juices based on fruits are served as well, to wash the meal.


Snacks are very much appreciated, so they are available in many varieties. For instance, the people in the Horn of Africa took samosa, a typical Indian snack, and made their own version, called sambusa. It is a snack made out of dough shaped in triangles, and filled with ground meat or fish in this area, and spiced with hot chili pepper. Kabaab is also another snack, consisting in a mixture prepared with potatoes, ground meat, onions, and vegetables, coated with flour and deep fried in oil. Backed bread pieces that resemble pretzels are also eaten as snacks, together with roasted barley, served in paper corns, popcorn, or fresh fruits.


Dinner is another important meal of the day, which is served in the evening, or even late at night, especially in Somalia. Here, dinners can be served up to 9 p.m., and even at 11 p.m. during Ramadan, as the people pray first and eat after. Cambuulo is one dish that can be served for dinner, using azuki beans, which can take up to 5 hours of cooking to obtain the desired tenderness. Also, for flavor, these beans are mixed with sugar and butter. Stews are also served, made with meat or just with vegetables, such as the one made with potatoes, green beans, green peppers, carrots and turmeric. Another dish would be one made out of cornbread, made with maize cooked in a clay oven, cut in small pieces and covered in sugar and sesame oil, and eaten with black tea.


The halva is appreciated, being made out of sugar, cardamom powder, corn starch, nutmeg power, ghee, and peanuts occasionally. Jalaato, which is a dessert similar to popsicles, are frozen fruits with a stick in the middle. There is also a recipe made with milk and sugar. Different types of cookies, or buskud, cakes, or doolshe, or coconut mixed with sugar and served as a bar. Another preferred dessert is gashaato, made with sugar, coconut, oil, and cardamom. Also, nuts and sesame seeds are put together with the help of a caramel bed, resulting a delicious and crunchy bar.


Coffee, tea and milk are commonly consumed. There is also a homemade beer, called sowa, made from roasted corn, barley, and other grains, being flavored with a leaf that is similar to buckthorn leaf. Honey wine is also a drink, being mostly used at weddings and other celebrations. In Ethiopia, there is atmet, a drink that is similar with egg-nog, but without alcohol. It is made with oat or barley flour, water, sugar, and clarified butter, which are all cooked together until the composition thickens.


Horn Africa Drinks

Holidays Menu in Horn Africa 


Christmas in the Horn of African means plenty of food and time spent with family and close friends. Roasted meat is often consumed, because in this part of the world, it is a sign of appreciation when offering a piece of roast meat to someone. Such a dish is tibs, a dish frequently served during holidays and different celebrations, consisting in sautéed meat and vegetables, which can be mild or hot concerning the seasoning. It may be done with or without vegetables at all. The halva is an appreciated dessert for special occasions, together with the honey wine, as beverage.

Coffee Ceremony

In Ethiopia and Eritrea, this is a very important ceremony, when the making and serving the coffee can strengthen bonds between members of community. During this ritual, one can decline the coffee in a polite manner, receiving tea instead. Sweets and small snacks, such as peanuts, popcorn or himbasha, which is a type of sweet bread, are consumed during these occasions.


Most Popular Dishes

•    Wat – a stew made with onions, oil, turmeric or berbere, meat, split peas, and lentils. There is also a vegetarian version, containing potatoes, carrots and chard.
•    Injera – flat bread similar with a large pancake, which accompanies stews;
•    Hillbet – a thick paste made out of lentils, fava beans, or other legumes, served with injera;
•    Akelet – a thick porridge, made out of wheat flour, served with a hole in the middle where berbere and butter sauce are added, surrounded by yogurt or milk. Pieces from the dough are taken and dipped into this sauce.
•    Dorho – stew that is usually spicy and made with a whole chicken.


Most Used Ingredients

•    Meat / Fish: chicken, lamb, mutton, beef and fish;
•    Veggies: pepper, onion, tomato, potato, lentils, fava beans;
•    Fruits: coconut, banana, mango, guava, grapefruit;
•    Other: berbere, cumin, turmeric, sesame and sesame oil, rice;


Street Food – What to eat when traveling to Horn of Africa

One of the most popular street foods in the Horn of Africa is sambusa, a pastry shaped like a triangular pocket, filled with various ingredients, like spiced vegetables, or meat. Deep fried fava beans patties, with a sweet white sauce for dipping, are also an appreciated street food, together with the so-called Safari Plate, which is injera layered with chicken spiced with lemon and garlic, yellow cabbage, and red lentil stew.


Are you from Horn of Africa? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on Horn African ethnic food.

Abba Chipo