A taste of Ethiopia in Cape Town

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Ethiopian cuisine is famously known for its rich aromas and generous use of herbs and spices, but you don’t have to travel to Ethiopia to find true Ethiopian cuisine; instead, you can simpy head to Cape Town for an authentic Ethiopian experience.

Addis in Cape is a restaurant in the heart of Cape Town, on the corner of Church Street and Long Street, promising patrons a true Ethiopian experience and pulling out all the stops to give Capetonians a taste of Ethiopia.

Addis in Cape is an Ethiopian inspired restaurant in Cape Town (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

The 62-year-old owner of Addis in Cape, Senait Mekonnen, says the inspiration behind the restaurant stems from the fact that she herself is actually originally from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. She wanted to bring a piece of Ethiopia to Cape Town.

Addis in Cape’s menu includes various flavourful Ethiopian dishes (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

The food includes a variety of vegetable and meat stews (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

“I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, a city located 2 300 m above sea level, where the sun shines pleasantly and feeds you with warmth, even on chilly days,” she explains on Addis in Cape’s website.

As I talk to Senait in person, she explains that she has always loved hosting people and inviting them into her home, cooking for them and making them feel at home.

She talks with passion about Addis in Cape, her love for food and her home country. Her heavy accent is difficult to miss, her voice warm and sultry.

The spices used in the restaurant is imported from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

She says that she had never imagined herself opening up an Ethiopian-themed restaurant, but found herself compelled to contribute positively to Ethiopia’s image, aiming to show the world that Ethiopia is not associated only with famine, hardship and war – it is also a country rich with culture, food and heritage. A country worth celebrating. And that prompted her eventually to share the cuisine she knows best.

“After travelling and living throughout Asia, Europe and the rest of Africa for some years, I opened Addis in Dar in Tanzania in 1998. Encouraged by its continuing success, yet drawn to South Africa by its people and its energy, I opened Addis in Cape in 2007.”

Guests sit around woven basket-like tables called a Mesob (Photo: Buddy Smit)

And over the years Addis in Cape has become known as a cosy restaurant with colourful umbrellas hanging from the ceiling, vibrant ambience, African-inspired decor and, of course, traditional Ethiopian food.

Traditional Ethiopian music plays in the background, the smell of food and spices coming from the open-plan kitchen, while guests sit around woven basket-like tables, called Mesobs, enjoying their meals.

Guests enjoying their meal (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

Addis in Cape’s menu includes various flavourful Ethiopian dishes, and the food is a variety of vegetable and meat stews and sauces. The menu caters to vegan, non-vegetarian, gluten-free and halaal-friendly diners.

The dishes are served together on a large plate which is layered with a pancake-like sourdough base called injera. Injera is usually made from a staple grain originated from sourced from Ethiopia called teff, which is fat- and gluten-free. What makes teff so interesting is the fact that it is one of the world's oldest grains.

Different from other restaurants is the fact that meals are eaten by hand at Addis in Cape. The injera looks like a large pancake with components of the dish served on it, and the idea is to tear off pieces of injera to scoop up the stews and sauces served.

The traditional coffee ceremony (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

Dishes at Addis in Cape include a variety of doro (chicken) dishes, tibs (beef) dishes and a wide variety vegan dishes. Prawn dishes are also on the menu, and according to Senait they are quite popular, although prawns are not traditional to Ethiopia. It is also imperative that one tries some tej, the sweet homemade Ethiopian honey wine or home-brewed Ethiopian coffee, adding to the experience.

The coffee plant originated in Ethiopia and this is definitely a reason to enjoy a traditional coffee after your meal. Ethiopian coffee is freshly roasted, grounded and cooked in-house daily and is brought to you in a traditional coffee pot called a jebena. They also burn some frankincense at your table and bring you a small serving of popcorn.

An interesting fact about Addis in Cape is that all their main ingredients and spices are flown in straight from Senait’s family home in Addis Ababa.

Dishes are full of flavour and served on a large plate which is layered with a pancake-like sourdough base called injera (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

“Our family apply traditional methods when preparing spices and food. This is why our food stays consistent.” Consistency is very important at Addis in Cape, Senait explains. Visitors need to know that they are getting the same quality meals each and every time they visit.

Addis in Cape prides itself in the food they prepare and promises patrons a unique Ethiopian experience not easily forgotten.

They are also constantly looking for ways to reinvent Addis in Cape and keep the experience fresh and exciting for visitors. They have recently introduced live music evenings, inviting artists to come and perform while guests are enjoying their meal.

Live music at Addis in Cape (Photo: Clive Ulyate)

These evenings are slowly turning into highlights, adding a different element to an already special experience.

Looking back over the years, Senait says other highlights at Addis Ababa have definitely included Desmond Tutu’s visiting the restaurant. Another highlight she remembers was famous conductor André Rieu and his orchestra visiting. These are precious memories she cherishes.

“One of the biggest highlights however, was a group of 15–20 Brazilians visiting,” Senait says. “Brazilians love coming here and this particular group was so special, because after they had finished their meals, they got up and applauded the kitchen staff.”

A unique Ethiopian experience (Photo: Schalk Hanekom)

For Senait this was a special moment.

“It was such a spontaneous reaction. The kitchen staff work so hard and it was rewarding seeing them getting recognition for their hard work.”

It is moments like these that reaffirm why she does what she does. Moments like these are not only highlights, they also make her excited about the future of Addis in Cape.

Buro: MvH
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