The most important tip I can give you on Eritrea local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Eritrea, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
Eritrean cuisine in the highlands (around Asmara) consists largely of spicy dishes and is very similar to Ethiopian food. The staple is a flat, spongy crepe or bread called injera, made from a batter of fermented grains. Spicy stews with meat and vegetables are served on top of it and eaten with the hands. This cuisine is generally found in many restaurants in the country.
Middle Eastern dishes such as shahan-ful (bean stew) served with pitas are also readily available everywhere but more commonly eaten for breakfast or brunch in modest establishments. Lowland cuisine is not readily available in many restaurants, but in the old town (outermost island) of Massawa, adjacent to the freeport area, there are some simple restaurants that serve cuisine typical to the Red Sea area such as grilled spicy fish and “khobzen” (pitas drenched in goats butter and honey).
Owing to its colonial history, Italian food is abundant, albeit not too varied all across Eritrea. You will always find a restaurant that serves good pasta, lasagna, steak, grilled fish, etc. In Asmara, there are also several Chinese restaurants, a Sudanese restaurant, and an Indian restaurant (Rooftop).
What to Drink in Eritrea
The most common beverage in Eritrea by far is beer. There is only one (state-owned) brand in the country so there is not much choice, but it is quite good. Beer is consumed cold in Eritrea! Beer’s popularity is closely followed by various soft drinks, and the most common flavors are as elsewhere in the world: orange, lemon/lime and cola flavors, produced by one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
The same company that holds the beer monopoly also holds the monopoly on producing the local form of Sambouca, colloquially called “Araqi”, as well as Vermouth and other spirits. International brands of the same spirits, as well as others, are readily available at most bars for a cheap price. Sophisticated cocktails are not known in Eritrea (as of yet) outside of the Intercontinental Hotel which charges a steep price. On a side note, there is an Irish bar in that hotel. Traditionally Eritreans also drink the local form of mead called “suwa”, which consists of old bread fermented in water with honey, as well as a sweet honeywine called “mies”.
Tap water should not be drunk by foreigners. There is plenty of relatively cheap bottled mineral water, both carbonated and non-carbonated in Eritrea. Cafes in some towns offer fresh fruit juices. Unpeeled fruits can be eaten or squeezed fresh by you. Avoid “ready-squeezed” juices as well as ice creams and all types of salads. Stick to bottled drinks and cooked foods.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.