Ethiopian kitfo, raw beef that will melt in your mouth

By Mark Wiens 15 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

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

  • Walter

    6 years ago

    I tried it, for the first time, at a restaurant in Johannesburg, SA. It’s DELICIOUS!

  • Alisa Shields

    7 years ago

    I’m trying to figure out the prominent spice in the accompanying green side. It is so good!

  • Michael Ware

    7 years ago

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

  • Brandy

    7 years 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

      7 years 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.

    • sam

      6 years ago

      you talk about an old story.The cow treated.

  • Jonathan

    7 years 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

  • Barbara J. Harwell

    8 years 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

      8 years 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.

  • John Roelofs

    9 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

    10 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).

  • Tommy Engstrom

    10 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.

  • Dan Hardy

    10 years ago

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

    • Dan Hardy

      10 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.

  • Simon

    10 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 🙂