A white (faranje) adoptive mother to two Ethiopian (habesha) girls wends her way through
Exotic Ethiopian Cooking by D. J. Mesfin

Monday, April 12, 2010

Ye'assa T'ibs (Fried Fish)

"Ye'assa T'ibs, Ethiopian style, may also be prepared with whole fish.  Cleaned inside and out with water and lemon and fried the same way coated with flour.  Serve with a wedge of lemon." ~ D. J. Mesfin, Exotic Ethiopian Cooking, p. 156

Ye'assa t'ibs on the right; the rest of the plate consists of iskunfur.

I present to you now an authentic Ethiopian dish that I think almost anyone would eat, except my brother or anyone allergic to fish.  No, not the stuff at the top of the plate (definitely not the stuff at the top of the plate; good luck finding anyone to eat that, save for my 2-year-olds).  The stuff on the right.  Where I grew up, we called that "fish fry" and Ted's was the place to get it.  I know, I know, I forgot the wedge of lemon.  

In Amharic, it's called ye'assa t'ibs.  And if there's anything the (my) Ethiopians like better than berbere, it's seafood.  I come from New England stock and can think of few things better than a lobster bake on a beautiful summer evening.  Chowder, lobster, clams, fish...pass them all, please!  This is one of the great passions shared between myself and the Ethiopians; if I can manage to get any after they've finished eating it, that is.  Despite their being from a landlocked country*, they have yet to meet a fish, a crustacean, or a mollusk that they don't like.  

I was going to be making ye'assa t'ibs anyway, but due to a business trip and Easter, I had gotten a couple of weeks behind, so I decided to make the ye'assa t'ibs in conjunction with something that I knew wasn't going to go over quite as well: the iskunfur.  As it turned out, the ye'assa t'ibs were delicious with the sauce from the iskunfur, even if one didn't partake of the stuffed tripe itself.  

Ye'assa t'ibs is quick and easy to make, and you probably have all of the ingredients at hand: fish, flour, black pepper, salt, and oil!  Nothing exotic and no need to stop by the Asian grocery!  

If you wanted to be most authentic, you could go with tilapia or catfish, species of which are found in the lakes of Ethiopia.  I decided to go with cod, however.  

You start by mixing the flour with the black pepper and the salt:

Then you dredge the fish in the mixture.  I usually like to use a big plastic bag for coating and dredging, but I happen to be all out, so I did it in a bowl.

all dredged and waiting for the frying pan

Heat up the oil and throw the fish in:

And fry until it's nice and golden.  That's it!  See how easy that was?  And it's authentic....or else it wouldn't be in the book!  

I do have to admit that I had to resist the very real temptation to add some tartar sauce.  


* There are, however, beautiful lakes in Ethiopia that are fished and we even visited a fish market at Lake Awassa when we were there.  Here are some pictures:


  1. I cooked this looks yummy, and your previous post looks positively disgusting, albeit a very entertaining read :-)

  2. Oh, and I love the pictures of lake awassa! Can't wait to go there!

  3. Beautiful pictures. I'm so jealous that your little Ethiopians like berbere and seafood. Mine - not so much. Aster likes fried fish, though. Time to try again. They used to love mit'in shiro (as opposed to the netch shiro my Ethiopian friend insisted I feed them), but they seem to like it less and less as time goes on. They cried last time I fed them something with a real taste of berbere - siga wat - cried like babies. It's my fault for toning it down. Nice job on the tibs - they look delicious.

  4. how do you get the fish not to stick to the pan? every time i try to fry fish the coating just sticks and the fish falls apart and it makes me cry.
    There was an article recently in some newspaper (maybe the science section of the TIMES?) about how a new ocean in forming in Ethiopia on the eastern side if i remember right. I should find it and send you the link....

  5. You're a NE girl huh? Does this mean someday we will meet each others' little Ethiopians? I am near Beantown maself.

    The fish looks easy and heavenly. I am tempted to do that, but then ruin it by cutting it up, added tomato and cilanto and lime juice and making a fish taco. :)

  6. Regina, I just used a nonstick pan and a cup of oil. Once I put it in the pan, I also didn't move the fish at all until it was ready to turn. Other than that, I have no idea how I got it not to stick!

    Staci, I'm actually Texas-born and upstate NY raised, but come from Boston/Cape Cod stock. I live just north of Hartford, so I wouldn't be surprised if our paths crossed one day!

    Katy, they're freaky. Really. They, too, have sometimes cried that the berbere is too hot, yet they'll keep eating it. AD was taking a bite of the tripe, panting, complaining it was too hot, then going in for more. They'll also try anything, as evidence by the stuffed tripe. I hope to keep their palates adventurous!!

  7. Hi Sheila,

    Can you tell me if you make or buy your injera? I don't have a ready source so I have to make it myself, fermenting teff flour batter for three days. It's fun, though!

    The recipe I use is close to the one in Ethiopian Cooking in the American Kitchen by Tizita Ayele--excellent book!! Do you have that one?

    My own Ethiopian child is an eight-year-old boy and he doesn't like spicy food as much as he did when he arrived at age 20 months, sorry to tell you!

    I grew up in Vermont and now live in the Hudson Valley.

    Hope to talk to you about Ethiopian food, sounds like you are passionate about it, like I am!



  8. Oops, I didn't notice your link to the injera recipe--that looks like a good one!


  9. Jennifer, we've got an Ethiopian restaurant very close by, so I tend to just buy it. You can also mail order it from http://www.ethiopianspices.com/html/products.asp?ItemID=1029

    My girls don't care much for that injera, but it makes great fitfit dishes, and you can't beat delivery to your door. There are other places that will do mail order, as well, I believe. I should try to find them and get them up on the sidebar. Where in the HV are you? I grew up outside of Troy, so know the upper part of the HV well.

  10. Thank you, Sheila! That's very helpful, because I don't always want to make the injera. Is the restaurant in Hartford? We went to Goshen for Easter, think that may be near Hartford. We live in Rhinebeck in Dutchess County.

    BTW, I put my stuffed tripe on my own blog if you want to see it. Yours looks great, though! I want to try that version!


  11. Looks really great!!... I have a question for you... I lived in Ethopia as a kid in the late '70s. I remember this mouth watering fried fish I have had in Addis multiple times... I cannot remember the type of fish... if I am not mistaken they fried it with the scales. Can you tell me what fish it is and what oil is used for frying traditionally... I know this was a popular fish in the restaurants in Addis Abbaba