Ethiopian kitfo, raw beef that will melt in your mouth

By Mark Wiens 28 Comments
Sitting down about to dig in to a platter of kitfo
Sitting down about to dig in to a platter of kitfo

Kitfo is like a hamburger, only it’s raw, and filled with spices, and eaten with injera instead of with a bun.

It’s one of the most praised foods in Ethiopia, and it is stunning on the taste buds.

Kitfo - raw beef with spices
Kitfo – raw beef with spices

While I was in Addis Ababa, one day I headed over to Yohannes Kitfo, one of the many well known kitfo restaurants in town.

While some restaurants serve the full range of Ethiopian cuisine, others specialize in just a single or a few dishes.

A kitfo house, such as Yohannes Kitfo restaurant, serves kitfo exclusively.

Kitfo in Ethiopia
Kitfo in Ethiopia

Ethiopian kitfo (ክትፎ) can either be ordered slightly cooked (leb leb) or completely raw.

I chose the completely raw version, wanting to experience the truest purest taste of the beef.

Deep red pile of kitfo
Deep red pile of kitfo

The beef is freshly ground and then mixed with mitmita, a blend of chili, spices, and salt. Then comes a generous anointing of spiced Ethiopian butter known as niter kibbeh.

That’s it.

Ethiopian kitfo is born!

Sometimes it’s just served as a pile of raw minced meat, but it’s also served with a number of salty cheeses and a spoonful of spiced gomen, collard greens.

Injera
Injera

When you have a traditional kitfo feast in Ethiopia, you’ll receive a variety of breads with your raw meat. Injera, the ubiquitous staple of the country, is always provided.

Kocho
Kocho

Along with injera you also get a bread called kocho (or qocho), a thick hearty flatbread made from ensete, similar to a banana. This was my first time ever to sample kocho.

One version was sticky, the other version was toasted and crispy. I especially liked the crispy kocho, it tasted like an incredibly filling cracker.

Along with bits of the raw beef, it was like eating crackers and butter.

Served with cheese and gomen
Served with cheese and gomen

My kitfo arrived, and it was literally a small mountain of raw beef placed before me, cradled in a clay vessel.

The meat was glistening from the light reflecting off the buttered raw meat.

I was thrilled and could barely contain my emotions of such a trophy of a dish.

Spooning out the kitfo
Spooning out the kitfo

You can either grab spoonfuls of raw beef and place them into a piece of injera, or alternatively you can take pieces of injera or kocho and dig straight into the dish. Both ways are equally effective.

A bite of kitfo
A bite of kitfo

I liked the spoon method, allowing me the pleasure of adding a spoon of beef partnered with a bit of cheese and gomen (collard greens).

How does kitfo taste?

I’ve had kitfo quite a few times at Ethiopian restaurants in the United States, and I always enjoy it, but this version at Yohannes Kitfo in Ethiopia was the best I’ve ever had by a long shot.

Honestly, the meat was so tender and so smooth that I really didn’t need to chew. The meat just sort of dissolved into my tongue, the spices and butter enlightening my taste buds.

My first bite was so incredibly good that I actually had to close my eyes and give myself a personal moment of silence to fully appreciate the flavor (I’m serious, video coming soon).

The beef wasn’t gamey at all, but it was rather like a delicate cheese, but herbaceous and spicy at the same time.

Kitfo is truly a meat lovers treat.

Yohannes Kitfo restaurant, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Yohannes Kitfo restaurant, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Yohannes Kitfo, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Price – The massive dish of kitfo could have easily fed 2 – 3 people and it cost 117 ETB ($6.10)
Open hours – lunch and dinner daily



28 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Michael Ware

    4 months ago

    Cleveland Ohio has a Ethiopian restaurant named Empress Taytu, and the first time I tasted Kitfu, I fell in love with it.

  • Brandy

    9 months ago

    @Steph- it’s the most tender and the tastiest when served raw.

    However there are some health implication of eating it raw (even once) as you may get E.coli etc. I’m Ethiopian and believe me a lot of Ethiopians have had E.coli related illness, get treated for it and go back to eating it raw again as it’s so delicious and people are willing to take the risk repeatedly (a bit like cigarettes or drugs lol) For this reason, I’d recommend it Leb leb (slightly cooked).

    • David

      6 months ago

      Greetings from Addis. I am here working with the Gastroenterology group at Black Lion. Kitfo has come up. Although I am curious to try, the risk is tapeworm (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taenia_saginata). I have asked the local doctors – they all love the taste but most of them will take “post exposure prophylaxis” with albendazole (cost only 2 ETB a dose) or praziquantel.

  • Jonathan

    10 months ago

    I’ve tried kitfo before and it’s too good. I ussualy ask my parents to make itor sometimes go to a Ethiopean resturant. Although I am Eritrean it is close to ethiopea and my dad was born there

    • Mark Wiens

      10 months ago

      Hey Jonathan, glad you love it too. It’s an amazing dish.

  • John Roelofs

    2 years ago

    Mark, you eat the plate westernstyle, just adopt sharing concept. The dish as such was not meant to be put in front of you alone, it is a sharing plate

  • Biruk

    3 years ago

    Really enjoyed the read and it’s kinda funny how I ended up here– looking for a recipe to make kitfo for my wife and I (Ethiopians who are short on cooking skills and paying attention while parents and guardians used to make it for us).
    The story I heard on how it became a norm to eat it raw is quite fascinating imo. It’s said that during war times, marching troops and espionage operations were compromised despite the rugged landscape within which they maneuvered. Later, troops realized that they were giving away their positions when cooking food and from smokes of burning wood. They adopted a method of drying meat (kuanta– a dried meat delicacy now…similar to beef Jerky?) or just eating it raw. It was an act of self – preservation and now, majority of us have developed a taste for it and maaaan I sometimes dream about a handful of kitfo gursha whenever I’m away from home. I enjoy it leb leb (slightly cooked).

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hello Biruk, great to hear from you. Thank you for sharing about the history of kitfo, that’s very interesting. So cool how some foods or ways of preparing them become so popular through certain events. Good luck with the cooking, I’m craving some kitfo now too.

  • Tommy Engstrom

    4 years ago

    Amazing website, Mark!

    I have really found a lot of inspiration for my upcoming travels from your blog, thanks!

    It seems that raw meat in various forms exists in many countries, cultures. In Sweden, where I live, we have a dish called “Råbiff” (raw beef). Very fine grounded beef (the most expensive variant in former days was a fillet of beef which was lightly frozen and then scraped with a knife to produce fine bits of meat, nowadays you most likely get “råbiff” sourced from ground (but still quality) beef).

    “Råbiff” is served together with salt, black pepper, chopped beet root, finely chopped yellow and/or red onion, a raw egg yolk in the half of the egg shell (for presentation), some kind of mustard (often dijon mustard) and capers.

    Roasted bread (or bread lightly fried in butter) is also often eaten together with råbiff.

    The meat is often just the meat but some people like to blend a little bit of cognac or similiar in the ground beef. I prefer the råbiff as it is.

    Some also like to fry, brown, the råbiff a few seconds in a very hot pan, perhaps to get the tasty surface from the maillard reaction.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hi Tommy, great to hear from you, and thank you for your kind comments about my website. Thank you for sharing about rabiff, that sounds incredible. Can’t wait to visit Sweden in the future to taste it!

  • Caroline

    4 years ago

    Mark, you are a very brave and adventurous culinary pioneer … I can’t get my mind around the idea of eating raw ground beef … kudos to you!

  • Anwesha

    4 years ago

    I have never had raw beef but I am curious to try this after your post. I wonder if there are any health issues with eating raw meat? Or is it that the blend of spices they use cure the meat some how?

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Anwesha, hope you can try some kitfo. Yah, I’m not fully sure either, but I’m sure there are more risks!

    • Barbara J. Harwell

      1 year ago

      The beef is grinded–chopped/finely ( in a meat grinder ) to perfection; seasonings ( Ethiopian homemade butter, Mitmita (very spicy pepper powder made of cayenne/dark orange chili peppers), cloves, cardamom, seed & salt) placed in an extremely “”H O T”” Skillet and turned over and over 1-2 times (which kills any and all bacteria that may appear in the beef), (this is called “”raw”” or you can get it “”leb leb”” ( cooked a little more than usual ( the way I like it ) and served with Ayib (Ethiopian Cheese in the Ethiopian language ( Amharic ) ( similar to collage cheese ) with gomen ( collard greens highly seasoned ). I am an African American (who now resides in ATL, GA ), but is from Nashville, Tennessee who use to own the first Ethiopian Restaurant in “”Tennessee”” ( Nashville) from 1988-2003 until my Ethiopian husband died of stomach cancer. I am well-versed with the Ethiopian Culture and people. I can cook, serve and eat ( lol ) the food at any time. Don’t be afraid to open your mind and heart and indulge into great eating. I guess I have eaten to much over my life time as a Owner because now I am on a “”salt restricted diet”” from my doctor, and these foods are good, but have salt to taste. My husband (Esayase) and his partner were the Owner’s, and myself and our daughter was mostly the dishwasher, but I was always happy to be in the kitchen with the aroma, lol. I welcomed the dishwashing at that time. lol

      • Cleta Ayers

        1 year ago

        Hello Ms Barbara, I so enjoyed reading your remarks. I too am an African American woman dating an Ethopian man. We have been together almost a year. I am totally fixated and mesmerized by the Ethopian culture and language. I am trying to learn Amharic and want to learn how to prepare the traditional dishes of his country. Especially Dora Wat and Kitfo. I love this man with all my heart. He is so kind, attentive , considerate and hard-working. Totally dispelling many myths about African men. I too, am a widow and never thought that I would love anyone again. But he is the best thing since “pulled injera bread”. Lol. Thank you, for your positive comments. I have received many negative thoughts from some people. But it is my life and I will live it my way. Life is too short to not be happy and that I am. Blessings to you.

  • Simon

    4 years ago

    This reminds me of a steak tartar my mum used to make, fresh minced beef, raw egg yolk, sour cucumbers, onion and lots and lots of pepper and a touch of nutmeg. yummy, even thinking of it got me salivating 🙂

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Yes, can be quite similar to a steak tartar. And that sounds wonderful too!

  • Mike | Earthdrifter

    4 years ago

    What fascinating food! I think I’d have to go with the ‘leb leb’ and an open mind and take it from there. I’m pretty sure that I’d love the ‘kocho’.

    • Dan Hardy

      4 years ago

      To call “raw minced beef” “fascinating food” its a bit outrageous

      • Mark Wiens

        4 years ago

        Hey Dan, it’s alright to disagree, but I’d appreciate it if you explained yourself. In my opinion, it’s not just the raw beef that makes it fascinating, it’s atmosphere, the presentation, side dishes and combination of ingredients, and how this dish is such a beloved dish to many Ethiopians.

        • Dan Hardy

          4 years ago

          I do believe you that it tastes good as I trust your taste buds by now 🙂 I just can’t get my head around it to call it fascinating, in my eyes its just raw meat, maybe I have to try it first to understand why you all think its so fascinating.

          • Mark Wiens

            4 years ago

            Thanks for sharing Dan – I definitely understand – and this is a dish that’s quite different from a lot of things. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting it to be as good as it was!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks Mike, leb leb is excellent too, and that kocho was unique and went well with the meat!

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)

    4 years ago

    I’ve only tried Ethiopian food twice, but the second time I did try kitfo. I thought it was fine, but I wasn’t sure why it’s served raw… in that, I don’t understand the rationale behind it. Is it a taste/textural issue, or is there a practical purpose behind it? I also didn’t understand why there was a “partially cooked” version… I think that’s the version we wound up trying and it was really just like the raw version, only a bit warm to the touch.

    All in all, it wasn’t a bad dish and I’d try it again, but it wasn’t my favorite Ethiopian dish, either. Maybe I just have to try it here to really appreciate it?

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey Steph, thank you for sharing, and glad you’ve tried kitfo before and would try it again!

      To be honest, I haven’t done much research about the history of the dish to know how it first began being eaten this way, but I do know that it’s very beloved in Ethiopia – it’s kind of a celebration, special time food. I think it’s a combination of the buttery texture of raw minced meat, paired with the flavor. I’m not sure if it would be so good with something like rice, but with the sour injera it really went well – at least for me.

      I can also say that I’ve had it a few times in the US, and I liked it, but this was by far the best tasting one I’ve ever had!