What is Kitfo?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Kitfo is a traditional Ethiopian dish made from raw beef which is minced and served with condiments including a spicy marinade rub and a form of clarified butter known as niter kebbeh. This dish is believed to have originated with the Gurage people in the southern region of Ethiopia, and it is commonly offered at Ethiopian restaurants the world over. Like other raw meat dishes, kitfo can be prepared at home, but only by people who have experience with raw meat, and who have access to a high quality butcher who can provide them with meat which is safe to eat raw.

Like the European version of this dish, steak tartare, kitfo relies on a very tender cut of meat which is as fresh as possible. The cook minces it finely, and serves it with a dish of spices including mitmita pepper and a side of niter kibbeh, which is flavored with herbs. People can eat kitfo with injera, a type of flatbread made from teff, or kocho, a thicker Ethiopian bread. Kitfo may be served with leafy greens, mild cheeses, or ensete leaves, depending on the cultural roots and preference of the cook.


Kitfo tire is traditional raw kitfo, and is what people will usually receive when they order kitfo. When they ask for the dish “leb leb,” it means that the beef will be partially cooked, but still rare. Kitfo leb leb has a slightly different texture and flavor, thanks to the cooking, and it is also warm, which some people find enjoyable, while others prefer their food totally raw with the accompanying cool temperature and distinctive texture.

Many people have food safety concerns about eating raw beef and other raw meats, as any bacteria present in the meat will be introduced into the body if the meat is left uncooked. People should only order raw beef dishes at reputable restaurants which are kept clean. In some cases, it may be possible to watch the cook prepare the dish, which can reassure diners that the meat is fresh, and that it is handled properly, kept in a refrigerated environment until it is needed, and cut on a cutting board which is maintained separately from boards used to handle cooked meats, vegetables, and other foods.

When prepared properly with good meat, kitfo can be very safe to eat. Signs that the dish may not be up to standard include meat which has begun to separate and pull apart, meat with strong discolorations, or meat with a sharp odor.


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Post 4

I am originally from Ethiopia. I will recommend anyone to try kitfo. It's the best.

Post 3

I decided to give kitfo a try at an Ethiopian restuarant in DC. I order it "lebleb", because I also like my steak rare and I figured it would be fine. When the kitfo arrived though, it was much more raw than I expected. It was very soft and didn't looked like it was cooked at all.

I had to send it back because I just couldn't eat it and they made another one for me. This one was said to be fully cooked, but it was actually "lebleb" by my definition. It was mostly brownish and pinkish in some places. This was actually very good and this is how I wanted it.

But when you order kitfo, I recommend describing in detail how you want the meat to be to the cook to avoid confusion.

Post 2

I just came back from Ethiopia and kitfo was one of the best Ethiopian foods I had there, along with "tibs" which is fried lamb.

As much as I loved kitfo, I did not have the guts to eat raw meat, so I always ordered it "betam leb leb" which basically means completely cooked. I also loved the side dishes that are served with kitfo. It is served with lots of bread and some vegetables. I loved the spinach cheese dip that usually came with it.

For anyone visiting Ethiopia, I completely recommend trying kitfo. Even if you can't have it raw, have it well cooked. It's delicious!

Post 1

I would be scared about eating kitfo if there wasn't any spices in it, but I think that spices help kill the bacteria in raw meat and make the food safer for the body.

I haven't had the chance to eat kitfo yet, but I have had a very similar food from the Middle East that is made with raw meat, pepper paste, lots of spices and bulgur wheat. This food is called "cig kofte" which literally means "raw meatballs." It tastes very good and there is only a minimal amount of raw meat in it that is mixed well with spices for several hours to "kill" the meat, so to speak.

I've had this several times when I was in Turkey and did not have any problems with food safety. I think kitfo must be a similar dish and since there is lots of spices in kitfo as well, the raw meat should not be harmful.

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