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Saucy & Spicy; It’s Good to be Ethiopian

Soup 1 on this year’s Around the World in 40 Soups adventure is Doro Wat from Ethiopia! We are following early human migratory routes, starting at the birthplace of humankind, in Africa, in the country where the oldest remains of Homo Sapiens have been found.

Doro Wat is a great example of Ethiopian cuisine, one of the country’s most beloved dishes. Traditionally a spiced, thickened chicken stew that would be mounded over rice on a big round of sourdough flatbread called Injera, and shared from a communal dish, pieces of the spongy bread torn and wrapped around the fragrant, brick red Doro Wat.

We have taken some liberties with the base recipe so we can serve it as a soupier stew, in a bowl with a spoon and all, because we really wanted to highlight these unique Ethiopian flavors at the start of our travels. We made our own Berbere—an Ethiopian spice blend comprised of ten different spices blended with dried red chiles and dehydrated onion flakes (the blending makes it really hard not to sneeze)—as well as our own Nitr Qibe—a spiced clarified butter that starts the whole thing off on an earthy, delectable note.

The resultant flavor profile is inimitable and strangely addictive—a marriage of sweet and savory spices (black cumin and pepper, cardamom, allspice, cinnamon, cloves) set against a deep base of intense allium, cooked low and slow with gobs of spicy fresh ginger. Man, does it all come together!

I’ve heard Ethiopian cooks posit that the uniqueness of their flavor profiles and traditions has a lot to do with the country’s relative geographic protection from outsiders, particularly Europeans. The mountainous terrain was hard to penetrate.

Which brings us back to those migratory patterns, and why early humans (some 50 thousand years ago, after weathering a near-extinction event) might have headed northeast out of Africa (from what is now Ethiopia) into what is now Djibouti, and then across the Red Sea at the Bab-al-Mandeb strait into what is now Yemen. This earliest beach-combing route will be our first sweep of soups: Ethiopia to Djibouti, then Yemen/Oman, southern India, Malaysia, and Australia. After that, we will circle back and take a later route out of Africa via the Middle East/Fertile Crescent.

Happy travels! And don’t forget to grab a passport.