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I'm spending the month of January in Ethiopia--mostly Addis, but I hope to get to Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar on the weekends. Even though I'm going to be working most of the time like a mad dog, I really want to explore the food more than I was able to do during my month in Nairobi. I'm staying at the Sheraton, where I know I can eat quite nicely, but I hope to get out as much as possible and try as many new things as possible.

Who's been? Can anyone recommend any resources or reading I can cram before I go? I've got time to research, and I'd appreciate any tips you've got!

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I spent the month of January 2001 in Addis, and enjoyed the food quite a bit...I ate at a lot of moderately priced Ethiopian places, and for the most part found the food consistently good. Unfortunately it's been a while and I don't have any specific recommendations.

I do remember being quite surprised at just how international a city Addis is...There were some very good Korean and Indian restaurants on the Bole Rd, I believe, closer to the city center than the airport, and good Italian as well, which might be more of a colonial legacy than anything else.

Have fun, and don't forget the tej beits!

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I lived recently in Addis for two years and just got back from a short visit. My favorites:

In the Sheraton, the Indian restaurant is very good and the pool restaurant has some nice dishes- the hummus with meat was my favorite.

For Ethiopian-

Fasika Restaurant off of Bole Road has great wots and a traditional singing/dancing show in the evenings.

Ambassador Park is in the Ambassador Theater area and is a pretty garden setting with inexpensive local food.

For Italian/Pizza-

Castelli's in the Piazza is a classic. Expensive, though.

Pizzeria Italia is across from the National Museum (near Blue Tops) and serves good thin-crust pies

Indian-

Ajanta in Bole/Rwanda for curries

Sangam on Bole for naan and tandoori dishes

Other-

Aladdin off of Bole (turn at the sign for Japan residence)for Armenian/Lebanese

Beer Garden Inn near Bole Airport for beer. The food was...interesting

In Lalibela, Gonder and Axum there is much more limited selection. Hope you like injera!

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Ethiopia is a pretty darn good place for food. Heavy on Italian and Ethiopian (duh), it's generally well-priced, well-portioned, and thoughtful. Ethiopians fast 200-250 days a year, but their style of fasting only restricts the consumption of animal products. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also uncommon. (Thus the bean-heavy vegetarian fasting platters--as well as the fact that women, especially pregnant women, are often undernourished, profoundly lacking in calcium and vitamins. But I digress.)

Addis Ababa

Habesha served me the best Ethiopian food of my trip. It's one of the many so-called "cultural" restaurants that serve Ethiopian food in a traditional setting, with flourishes like the coffee ceremony and dancing. These are the places tourists seek out, but during my lunch, we were the only table of foreigners. The meal begins and ends with servers who come to the table with a pitcher, soap, and a basin to wash your hands--nice in a dusty city when you're about to eat with your hands. The four of us got the vegetarian fasting platter for two--and couldn't finish it. And this stuff was freaking phenomenal. The injera is lighter and less sour than we get in the States, but other than that I can't even describe or pinpoint why it tastes so, so, so much better. It's just a revelation. We ordered coffee, and a woman came by with a tray of just-roasted, still-smoking beans for us to smell, then lit a small tray of incense on the table. The coffee on its own would have been delicious, but the smells sent it over the top. I still dream about this $3 meal.

Castelli's. Oh, Castelli's. Possibly the most famous Italian restaurant in Addis, it's served famous folk from Bill Clinton to Angelia Jolie. My buddy called to get us a table for that night, and was rebuffed. But I didn't get his message and when I met him there, we decided to give it one last try. And in fact, one demure smile later and we were ensconced in a private room. (Don't judge me.) The salad, ravioli, and peach gelato were just delicious, if overpriced. And our server was a hoot. The guy had obviously worked there forever, and had great stories to tell once we engaged him. Nice place.

Chez Fasil is just strange. It's a new "international" restaurant that's incredibly difficult to find, but that could not be more hospitable. On walking in the front door, the host serves you a shotglass of a tasty, cold, lightly alcoholic drink. Nice touch. The menu is all over the map and mixes, uh, species more than I've ever seen. You can't just get pork; you get pork in a sauce of ground fish. You can't just get fish; you get fish with chicken cream. Interesting, and okay, and quite surprisingly not disastrous. Don't bother ordering starters here; if you order an entree, they bring about three courses beforehand. For us it was soup, lentil salad, and an injera-berebere concoction. Note: Ethiopian ouzo isn't bad when you're drinking it; it is decidedly bad the next day.

You don't have to be a member to eat at the Greek Club, and if you're in the mood, it fits the bill. Tasty beef shwarma and Greek salad. Note: the things that look like green bell peppers are SPICY, not sweet.

Both Tivoli and Antica have respectable pizza, though I'd have to give the edge to Antica for a better crust, and also because I actually had to salt my pizza at Tivoli. Which I've never done before.

Family is possibly the only restaurant I've found in Africa that serves Tex-Mex food--a pretty darn smart move since they're very close to several U.S. and European offices. They do a surprisingly decent job at it (but I still can't get behind using yogurt instead of sour cream). They also have okay sandwiches and salads, and foreigners should feel perfectly comfortable about eating their fresh vegetables. I had lunch there about twice a week for a month and never had the slightest problem.

Guy's is a proper, divey expat bar with good sandwiches, fries, and salads. British themed, but the name is the French pronunciation "gee."

Jewel of India serves fine, unremarkable Indian food. Tasty bread, decent service.

Lalibela

The only place I ate in Lalibela was my guesthouse, Seven Olives. While not as good as Habesha, the Ethiopian food was still just amazing. And the coffee, again, delicious. If you don't drink coffee with milk regularly, try it in Africa at least once. That stuff comes straight out of the cow and adds an extraordinary richness and unmistakable DAIRY-ness.

After a day hiking around the churches, have dinner and then get yourself to Askalech Tej House, also known as Torpedo. Tej in Ethiopia is really different than what we're served in the States. It's thicker, looking almost like mango juice, and tastes strongly of honey without being as cloying as it is here. You can order it mild, medium, or strong, and it comes in a cool bottle, which you drink from directly after knocking the first sip out of the neck. Torpedo is a "tourist" place, but still has dirt floors, goatskin seats, and 75 percent Ethiopian customers. A husband and wife walk through the room singing and playing a masenqo, encouraging people to dance. And once you're about halfway through your tej, you will start dancing. You just will.

I have no idea what the name of the bar where we ended the night is.

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The injera is lighter and less sour than we get in the States, but other than that I can't even describe or pinpoint why it tastes so, so, so much better. It's just a revelation.

My understanding (though I might be wrong) has always been that injera in Ethiopia is more likely to be made with teff (as it's traditionally supposed to be) than injera here, since teff is harder to come by in the States.

Tej in Ethiopia is really different than what we're served in the States. It's thicker, looking almost like mango juice, and tastes strongly of honey without being as cloying as it is here.

I have found real tej, the type you describe, here once. Never at a restaurant, but homemade, in unlabeled bottles, at the back of an Ethiopian grocery store in the Maryland burbs. I'm sure it was illegal, and the guy wasn't thrilled to sell it to me ("Oh no, you won't like this"...oh yes I will ;)), but it hit the spot after I had tried the real thing in Ethiopia. And just to emphasize the point you made in your post, it's really nothing like the tej served in restaurants here, which is much weaker and sweeter than the real thing.

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My understanding (though I might be wrong) has always been that injera in Ethiopia is more likely to be made with teff (as it's traditionally supposed to be) than injera here, since teff is harder to come by in the States.

Yes, you're right. I wrote that badly, though. I meant that the food, aside from the injera--the wot, tibs, kitfo--were all just indescribably better, brighter, more perfect than I've had them here. Sure, I realize that time and place and company play a huge role in appreciation, but this stuff was just off the hook, and I don't know why! Although I'm deeply craving it and still in withdrawal, I've actually held off on getting Ethiopian since I've been home so it can live in my memory a bit longer. :P

I have found real tej, the type you describe, here once. Never at a restaurant, but homemade, in unlabeled bottles, at the back of an Ethiopian grocery store in the Maryland burbs. I'm sure it was illegal, and the guy wasn't thrilled to sell it to me ("Oh no, you won't like this"...oh yes I will ;)), but it hit the spot after I had tried the real thing in Ethiopia. And just to emphasize the point you made in your post, it's really nothing like the tej served in restaurants here, which is much weaker and sweeter than the real thing.

Jealous! This is not stuff I'd drink on a regular basis, but I went to Ethiopia assuming that tej was like the stuff we had here--basically kind of an uber-sweet riesling--and it's SO NOT.

And it tastes even better after a few hours of doing the "chicken dance"... Ahem.

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My wife and I spent nine days in Addis Ababa (and Lalibela) last month (March 2016), so I thought I'd add a little about the food. I should immediately say that our trip wasn't food-focused and that getting around Addis to go to restaurants is not at all easy (especially for non-Amharic speakers like us), so our contribution to this discussion might be discounted somewhat. Moreover, we had decided (in part thanks to Todd Kliman's suggestion on Twitter and the vehement recommendation of every Ethiopian-American we know) not to risk any raw meat while we were in Ethiopia, so we missed a key part of Ethiopian cuisine.

Restaurants (in Addis Ababa unless otherwise stated)

- Habesha 2000 (described by qwertyy above) - We ended up eating here twice, both times taken by friends of an Ethiopian-American friend of ours. This is a famous "cultural restaurant," which features a wide array of traditional Ethiopian food and traditional dances at night. But the crowd was more than half Ethiopian both times we were here. Both times, at our hosts' suggestion, we ate from the buffet. At lunch we had the "fasting menu" buffet, which is vegetarian with no animal products at all (including no cheese and no eggs - vegans would have a very easy time eating in Ethiopia). The next night for dinner, we ate from the full buffet, with meat (but no raw meat). Both times I tried the tej (honey wine, I guess) and was as underwhelmed by it in Addis as I have been in the USA.  The food was good at both meals, but except for the all-teff injera (which is far better than the typical mostly or all wheat injera in the US), not quite as good as the better Ethiopian restaurants here in DC. That's probably to be expected from having eaten off the buffet, which tend to tone down the food a good bit everywhere. The dance show is tremendous, however, so I highly recommend a visit to Habesha 2000, for that reason alone (especially if you are interested in learning the shoulder-shrugging "chicken dance").

- Taza Cafe - This restaurant/bar, which is just off Gabon Road near the intersection with Bole Road, is just a local place, though a good bit more upscale looking than the other nearby restaurants. The menu, which is all in Amharic except for western dishes like hamburgers, is massive. But both times we stopped here, all they really had was mixed veggies, shiro (a pureed lentils dish), fir fir (basically injera with shiro, I think), and lamb tibs. It was fine, but nothing you would ever seek out.  

- Eggy Yummy Diner - This is the inhouse restaurant at the Bow Hotel and is only one of many reasons to stay there (other reasons include the warmth, knowledge, and helpfulness of the husband and wife Canadian-Ethiopian owners -- and the unbelievable $45/night price). The "mixed juice" is one of the greatest things I've ever had -- it's colorful pureed layers of whatever fruit is available plus layers of pureed avocado. All the guests were scarfing this stuff down (at about a dollar a glass). The western food (especially the breakfast) is well done, and the small Ethiopian menu of standards (fir fir, tibs, etc.) cooked by Aster (the co-owner wife) was easily the best Ethiopian food we had in Ethiopia (and would be excellent even by the competitive standards of DMV's various "Little Ethiopia's"). Real zinginess and flavor, plus much better injera than we can usually get here. 

- Ararat Club - There has been an Armenian community in Addis Ababa since the 19th century, though it is much diminished now. My wife and I love Armenian food, so we made an effort to seek out this hard-to-find Armenian restaurant located in what is left of Addis Ababa's Armenian neighborhood. The restaurant was prettily decorated and it was a pleasant meal, but it was really more generically Middle Eastern than Armenian. The menu focused on such standards as hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and kabobs, with just a few items that might be distinctively Armenian (manti, e.g.). Ararat receives good reviews in the guidebooks and on TripAdvisor, but it was slightly disappointing. 

- Jewel of India - This restaurant, located on a side street near the intersection of Bole Road and Gabon Road, is directly across the street from a huge furniture store and a large Yemeni restaurant. It receives rave reviews from the guidebooks and from most reviewers on TripAdvisor, and deservedly so. This was probably the best meal I had in Ethiopia. We had a lamb curry, a fish dish (maybe jalafrezi), and an appetizer of grilled meats (accompanied by a tomato with a candle inside). We just had northern Indian standards, but they were complex,  and delicious. If this restaurant were in Northern Virginia, I'd be a regular there. 

- Little canopy shelter by the side of Lake Ziway (in the Rift Valley). There is only one thing to eat here. Just-caught wild tilapia are cleaned on the spot, fried in a propane-heated pan, and eaten with your hands from a paper plate while you are perched on a cheap plastic chairs  -- with the bones thrown to the dozens of huge wild lake birds clustering a few feet away from you (pictured below). Quite an experience and wild tilapia is far superior to the farmed crud. 

- Sora Lodge (Lalibela) - Lalibela is known for its 11th century rock churches, not its food, but the food at the Sora Lodge was solid, both the western style breakfasts and the limited menu of Ethiopian standards. The only miss was the hamburger, which was made German-style and has way too much bread for the amount of meat. The setting is gorgeous, as you eat overlooking a deep mountain valley. The hotel is top notch too. 

- Mamma Mia! - This lovely Italian restaurant was my wife's favorite meal of the trip and I really enjoyed it as well. It is in a lovely garden setting. Bruno, the owner, is half-Italian and half-Ethiopian and ran a restaurant in Italy for several years before moving to Addis. There is no menu -- Bruno tells you the day's offerings in perfect English (with a charming Italian accent). The food is upscale Italian, heavy on the house-made pastas. My wife was blown away by her agnolotti (and tiramisu); I am not wildly crazy about Italian cuisine in general, but enjoyed my conchiglie dish. The guidebooks and online commentary seem to agree that this may well be the best Italian restaurant in Addis right now (and Addis has lots of Italian restaurants).

- Airport cafes - Do not eat at the restaurants in the chaotic Addis Ababa airport. 

Lake Ziway garbage disposals.jpg

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