current location

vancouver, canada

(updated: april 2018)


getting by in amharic ኣማርኛ

     One of the most exciting things about traveling in different countries, for me, is attempting to learn the language. Next would be using it with the locals - often just to cheer them up with my horrid accent. Below, I've compiled a list of useful phrases that I've noted in my travels in Ethiopia. If anything is incorrect, please let me know. I am simply copying from my notebook the words learned from both guidebooks and Ethiopian friends. That being said, I have only traveled to Addis Ababa, South Omo Valley, Lalibela, and Harar, so it is likely that some phrases are different in other regions of the country.
     Although I tried to transliterate the words into Amharic fidel alphabet next to most of them, it is unnecessary to memorize in order to get by (as is learning Amharic, really - almost everyone speaks English), so all of the below is purely for your own interest, as it was mine!
a few key things to note:
- Amharic phrases vary from region to region
- ishee እሺ is a word that is often used to express both agreement and reassurance; it is also used to say hi or bye
- a sharp intake of breath means agreement and understanding
- nefse is used to get someone's attention (kind of like, "you there!")
- mitmita is a spicy Ethiopian seasoning mix of ground African birdseye chili peppers, cardamom, cloves, and other spices
- similarily, berbere is another typical blend, dominating with cayenne and paprika
- it is not uncommon for Ethiopians to drink ispris, a mixture of coffee and tea
- the word faranji is used to describe foreigners. You're gonna hear it a lot

eating vegan in... ethiopia

Women selling fruit in Harar
     Ethiopia must be one of the easiest places in the world to be a vegan, let alone a vegetarian. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church instills 7 "fasting" periods, during which most religious folks refrain from eating any animal products except for fish. Accordingly, many "fasting" dishes are available throughout the year, especially over the many fasting periods. These include shiro, a fiery lunchtime dish made of chickpea flour and berbere spice; tegabino, a thicker, blander version of shiro; ful, the typical Ethiopian breakfast dish made of pureed broad/fava/kidney beans, the "special" version of which usually includes avocado [and eggs] - this one is often served with a bun either alongside or instead of injera; vegetable firfir, which consists of pieces of injera pieces cooked in a tangy tomato sauce; and many others. If you decide that you're not a big fan of injera, the fermented teff grain pancake that all of the above dishes are served on, there are also a whole lot of spaghetti dishes around!
Woman selling injera at a local market
     Ethiopian food (the stuff served on injera, not the italian pasta!) is eaten without the help of cutlery, with your right hand specifically. A piece of injera (either the one on which the sauces are or one of the rolls served with it) is broken off and, using all five fingers, the sauce is picked up using the pancake. A few people are generally seen sharing one dish, often ordering more side sauces to go with it if it isn't enough.
     Apart from injera and spaghetti, there's a whole ton of wonderfully delicious fruits in the country. During our stay in the month of August, we encountered mass amounts of bananas, green oranges, sugarcane, papayas, avocados, and mangoes, as well as some other exotic fruit I wouldn't be able to identify without the help of a local. The markets are generally abundant in various grains and colourful produce (whatever is in season and/or accessible in the area), and there are many roadside fruit-sellers standing around on the popular highways. Not to mention, there's a whole lotta grilled corn going on on the streets, and, when in Addis, don't miss out on one of the many vegan buffets offered, particularly the daily one at Taitu Hotel.