The most adventurous and unique dish in Ethiopia’s arsenal of delicious foods is kitfo. This is Ethiopia’s signature raw meat dish and for any foreigner wanting to eat like a local, it’s a must.
There are two key ingredients in determining the quality of kitfo:
First, the beef. Tender cuts of beef (rump – the most expensive cut in Ethiopia) is hand-diced using a sickle-like knife with handles on both ends. Some ambidextrous butchers use two steak knives cutting in opposite directions at the same time. Kitfo is traditionally served raw (“tere”) or warmed (“leb-leb”) but could be fully cooked if health concerns outweigh one’s adventurous side. Given that meat is usually served raw, it is essential to eat kitfo at only the best and most trusted restaurants and never on a Wednesday or Friday as these are the fasting (non-meat) days for the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and meat is not fresh.
And the second, the butter.
Kitfo is not kitfo without Ethiopian kibbeh. Kibbeh is butter that has been cooked down, spiced and clarified. The variations of spices depend on each restaurant but one can be sure that some combination of these ingredients will be used: koseret (similar to oregano), beso bela (African basil), Ethiopian cardamom, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg. Buying butter from a purveyor of the highest quality is a must, given that some butters in Ethiopia are diluted with vegetable oil to increase profits.
A good kibbeh gives the dish a kick of heat, while richening and salting the beef. The quantity poured on is subject to the gluttony of the eater. It helps, for those that are pigs like us (!) that the woman in charge of serving the kitfo at most restaurants is happy to pour on the kibbeh liberally.
Traditionally, kitfo will be served alongside varieties of ayib (local cheese similar to cottage cheese),on top of false leaf banana bread and injera. The ayibhelps cut the spice, and, is delicious in its own right!
The four varieties in this photo are plain, mixed with finely chopped collard greens, spiced with mitmita and mixed with roughly cut collard greens. In the middle in is kibbeh.
We have been eating kitfo at Tamem Kitfo in Gerji for about a year now. It’s a small restaurant with wobbly chairs and plastic tablecloths. It’s a fairly small place that is packed at lunch but less crowded for dinner. There are three reasons we like this place so much. The beef is of excellent quality, and is chopped so fine it almost becomes a paste. The second is the quality of the kibbeh: it is spiced perfectly and accompanies the beef and ayib outstandingly. The third is the presentation. First, the plate (set in a traditional woven flat bowl) arrives. Next comes the kitfo scooped out of a clay dish with a cow horn spoon. After that, she returns with a 1.5 foot wide clay dish filled with four different types of ayib and sautéed collard greens. She scoops these onto the plate and returns again to kitchen. Seconds later she’s back with a small clay carafe filled with kibbeh and pours it over the kitfo and cheese until we say when.
Kitfo Ayib Selection
We usually get two orders of kitfo for three of us. The special kitfo comes with several types of ayib, fresh sautéed collard greens and is 100 ETB. They also serve a great gomen be siga (collard greens cooked with beef shanks).
However, we decided it was time to venture out from Tamem and try another place or two. Our local taxi drivers have been suggesting Totot Kitfo Bet – a traditional place in a residential area, which is famous for their kitfo. We obliged, obviously, and went for lunch this Saturday. We had to park down a dirt road as the area was so packed with cars. This further whetted our appetite. Inside, this large traditionally decorated restaurant was full of people eating kitfo, drinking beers and enjoying their Saturday afternoon. Our order of special kitfo arrived after 10 minutes or so with the bare minimum: kitfo and one scoop of ayib. And we had to ask for extra kibbeh! Perhaps it was because our expectations were so high, but we weren’t impressed. The kibbeh was lacking and the meat wasn’t cut as fine as we like it. And to top it all off – there was barely anything to top it off! We prefer more than one measly scoop of ayib with our kitfo.
Kitfo, Ayib and Collared Greens
Later that week we tried Sokem Gurage’s Kitfo Bet in an area where we take food tours. We ordered the special kitfo and a couple minutes later the cow horn spoon was delivering kitfo to our plate. Next came the collard greens and ayib – only one option, but a hefty portion at least! And finally, the kibbeh. Our kitfo was swimming in kibbeh by the time we asked her to stop. Now, the beef here is somewhere in between the paste-like beef at Tamem and the not-so-finely-chopped beef at Totot. But the kibbeh and ayib was where this dish really shined. The ayib was mixed with very finely chopped collard greens and salted to perfection. The kibbeh was also great. It didn’t quite have the kick of the kibbeh at Tamem but we will definitely be back here for kitfo again.
At least for now, Tamem is our favorite – everything about the kitfo, the presentation and the small restaurant feel of that place is perfect. However, we’ve been asking every Ethiopian we encounter where the best kitfo restaurant is and we’ve got a great collection of places to try out next. So stay tuned for the search pt. 2.
Totot Kitfo is located next to Nexus Hotel just off the ring road in between the Bob Marley circle in Gerji and the Megenagna circle.
Sokem Gurage’s Kitfo is located on Chechinia Road just past the Atlas Hotel intersection.
Tamem Kitfo is located in Gerji just off the ring road at the Bob Marley circle. If you are heading south, it will be on the left hand side of the road.