As with its cuisine, landlocked Ethiopia lies somewhat separate from its Mother Africa. Its main borders with Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan can be easily drawn along an encircling rim of high mountain peaks — some of them reaching over 15,000 feet. Transportation is difficult in this terrain, which is why Ethiopia has maintained its purity — relatively uninfluenced by neighboring countries and their invasions over the centuries.
Since the 1400's, traders have introduced some non-indigenous ingredients that have added to what we now know of as authentic Ethiopian cuisine. From Portugal came chile peppers, and from the Orient — ginger. India played a part in North African trade as well, introducing exotic spices. However, gastronomic influences are not altogether obvious in Ethiopian cuisine because it is so different from all others.
Almost half of Ethiopia's population are Christians, who live in Northern Ethiopia. In the south Muslim factions predominate. Vegetarian dishes are not only a must for the Muslims, but are also popular among Ethiopia's Christian population, who respect nearly 200 fasting days a year (chicken, meat, and dairy products are not allowed).
Most of Ethiopia lies between 7,000 and 10,000 feet in elevation on a high tableland of mountains and plateaus. Ethiopians support themselves primarily through agriculture — although of a subsistence nature. Some cattle and sheep are raised. Although the soil is fertile, farming practices are primitive and some areas remain barren.
Coffee is Ethiopia's main commodity — a commodity Ethiopia claims originated in the highlands of Kaffa in Southwestern Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has been described as the land of bread and honey. Grains including sorghum, millet, teff, and wheat grow well in the temperate climate. And honey, collected by ancient beekeeping techniques, is used in everyday meals. Ethiopian food is the ultimate in "living off of the land."