36 hours of traveling and we arrived in Addis Ababa. Not knowing what to expect, the city was full of surprises. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital in the world. With an altitude of 8300 feet, the climate is very temperate – staying in the 70s year round.
So besides curiosity, what prompted a trip to Ethiopia? Last month my cousin Kristen got married at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa, where Haile Selassie is buried. The Ethiopian Orthodox mass started at 5am and lasted four hours long (much to my husband’s chagrin). It didn’t help matters that sitting was highly frowned upon. The service was like stepping back into Biblical times – women swathed in white veils, men leaning on prayers sticks and lots of sonorous chanting. Long yes, but lovely too.
We stayed at a local hotel called the Panorama. It was comfortable but not fancy. We toured the city – visiting the National Museuem, St. George’s Cathedral (built in 1896 to commemorate the victory over Italy’s occupation) and the Ethiopian Ethnological Museum -Haile Selassie’s former palace, which had some nice displays on the history and culture of Ethiopia.
One of my favorite stops was Caffe Tomoca. We enjoyed 30 cent shots of incredible espresso. History tells us Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee – supposedly discovered by an itinerant goat herder who brought newly discovered coffee berries to some monks. Thinking the berries the work of the Devil, they threw them into the fire and were startled by the fragrant smell. The monks covered the burnt beans with water, and the first coffee was brewed(!) I bought a couple of bags as gifts, and my husband insisted on keeping them (sorry friends!) Now that we have family in Addis, I’ve got orders placed for more.
So how was the food? Like most people, I’ve eaten Ethiopian food in LA and Portland, but let me tell you, it doesn’t come close the real thing.
First of all, the flavors are more savory and the heat from the peppers, more intense. My cousin’s rehearsal dinner was held at Habesha, which was recently touted in a New York times article. The dinner started with a lovely hand washing ritual, followed by a distribution of St. George’s beer and tej – Ethiopian honey wine. Dinner was piled on injera – dishes such as doro wet (chicken stewed in onions, chile and ginger) and shiro (yellow pea puree) amongst others flavored with berbere (the ground mixture of chiles, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves). Accompanying the dinner were some amazing singers and dancers busting moves I had never seen before. Before the night was over, a number of our group got pulled in for a twirl.
Addis Ababa was truly a surprise. Best of all the people were really friendly. While there are few foreigners in the city, we were certainly welcomed.
Memories I will take with me – the perfume of Frankincense burning on coals, the thin dry Addis air, the delightfully spicy flavor of berbere, and the divine smell of freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee. አመሰግናለሁ [ameseg’nalehu] – thank you Ethiopia!