The Ethiopian Great Fast (Abiye Tsom): Bayaynets and Vegan Diets

This year, the Ethiopian Great Fast starts on March 8th and ends on Ethiopian Easter, which is May 2nd. This fasting period is called Abiye Tsom in Amharic. It’s a 55-day fasting period before they celebrate Easter (similar to Catholic Lent, but longer).  During this fast, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians only eat 1 meal per day in the late afternoon or evening, and they cannot partake of any animal products, making their diet entirely vegan.

I believe that, throughout the year, there are around 180 “mandatory” fasting days for those who are part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Food-wise, all these fasting days are handled similarly to the Great Fast, meaning, that for nearly half of the year, they are on a vegan diet!

Photo: the hills near my “hometown” of Mizan Teferi.

Last year, I posted several vegan sauce and side recipes that are often eaten during Abiye Tsom. They are eaten on injera, which is a staple carbohydrate served across most of the country. It’s primarily made from a grain called teff. I’ve heard some people describe injera as being similar to a crepe. Please people, STOP describing it this way. It is NOTHING like a crepe in taste or texture, and if you’ve never had it and go into it thinking that’s what it’ll be like, it could very well ruin your first impression! In actuality, it’s a spongy, dimpled, flatbread that has a sour taste due to fermentation. Does that sound like a crepe to you? um, NO! Ok, rant over, lol. 😉

In Ethiopia, if you’re invited to a friends house or go to a local restaurant during any of the fasting days, they usually only have vegan food available. The most common “dish” that’s served is called a bayaynet. It’s a large roll or two of injera placed on a round tray and adorned with half a dozen or so vegan sauces and sides. When the Orthodox Church is not fasting, restaurants will serve injera with various types of meat dishes as well as Ethiopian cheese.

Photo: A fairly typical bayaynet with lots of vegan sides and sauces

It’s an interesting dish because they are often a little different everywhere you go, and sometimes, they’re even different from one day to the next at the same restaurant! It just depends on what’s available at the markets or what each household has in their kitchen.

Next week, I’m going to share a great method for making your own injera at home, so that when the fast starts on the 8th, you can try your hand at this delicious Ethiopian cuisine.

Here’s a list of the most common vegan sides/sauces that I was served on bayaynet platters. Give them a click if you want to try making it yourself:

If you’re interested in learning more about this fasting period, check out this website for more information).

Photo: the Ethiopian and Oromo flags flying in my language/culture training town of Menagesha