abyssinica: an ethiopian eatery


It took me ages to finally track down the number of this restaurant in Kensington, cnr Langerman and Queen. Well, mostly because I thought it was called Abyssinia, when it’s really called Abyssinica. So with the intention of celebrating hubby’s birthday in a different sort of way, I booked a table for 15 – with a semi-positive recommendation from a friend.

First of all, we ordered bottles of wine for the table. Quite puzzling thing: all the wines, both red and white, from Zonnebloem to Spier – cost R100. But I would recommend you bring your own. That’s the extent of their wine list – Zonnebloem and Spier. And not much worth mentioning in between. Before everyone arrived we asked the front of house to take us through the menu. Everything is written in Amharic (I had to google the official language of Ethiopia because I actually didn’t know). I actually remember one of my first serious junior school projects – white cardboard, encyclopaedia-statted images and text the whole works – was on Ethiopia. Guess I wasn’t really paying attention because seeing the word Amharic was like seeing it for the first time. Anyway, the front of house refused to take us through the restaurant’s offering until everyone had arrived. ‘Have you eaten here before?’ he asked. We said no. And he said, ‘Well, then let’s wait and see and I will teach you the Ethiopian way of eating. It’s very different. It’s very different. Enjoy the video while you wait.’ So we sat, sipping our wine, watching a highly dramatized music video featuring flashes of a squabbling couple casually dropped in between sequences of traditionally dressed Ethiopian men and women dancing and gyrating in quite a mesmerizing way.

So when everyone finally arrived, the enthusiastic host took us through the menu: ‘I will bring you a bit of everything, he said. ‘You will eat with your hands. Do you want to try something a little different?’ When we all nodded, some of us hesitantly, he said, ‘I will bring you some raw meat which we love to eat in Ethiopia. It’s very spicy; very nice.’ And with that he disappeared and reappeared moments later with two round platters laden with bits of everything on the menu served on a yeast-risen, sponge like, sour-tasting flatbread called injera which we had to break off and use to scoop up the bits and pieces we wanted to eat. Very Indian-style. I’ve read that in some restaurants and homes, the host might roll up for your first taste and pop it into your mouth for you. Some of the ‘dishes’ we couldn’t decipher and others were quite obvious – from the ground beef (raw) with lots of spices which was actually rather tasty to the peppery lamb, hard-boiled egg, chicken stew, tomato sambles and what I think might have been goat’s cheese with it’s bland flat flavour.

The highlight of the evening: the resident band remixing ‘Happy birthday to Hein’ for at least half an hour. All in all a good night out – and a refreshing change of scenery and style. I would recommend a visit – perhaps not just to seek out the food, but for a wholehearted Ethiopian experience. I wonder if there are any others like it in Johannesburg. It might be nice to try another out and compare the quality of food served.

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