Addis Ababa: A world away

WORLD ON A PLATE — It is a rainy and cold Tuesday night in Silver Spring. A string of newly lit Christmas wreaths glows through the haze down Fenton Street. My wife and I are on our way to Addis Ababa Ethiopian restaurant. I have to be honest, neither of is in the mood for dinner out tonight. The malaise we feel stems from a food hangover brought on by the gluttony of Thanksgiving dinner just days prior. But just moments inside Addis Ababa we quickly realize that this night will be so much more than just another meal out, it will be a cultural adventure.

The dining room is made up of an eclectic blend of colonial inspired short legged chairs, goat skinned rugs, handmade straw mesob’s,(Ethiopian serving tables) and colorful hand painted lamp shades. All of this combines to create a feeling of exotic comfort. Suddenly our malaise disappears as we feel we have been teleported into another world.

Workie Getachew

Workie Getachew

This multicultural aesthetic was not created by happenstance Co-owner and operator Workie Getachew tells me, “Many people eat here because they feel comfortable. Ethiopian’s like it because we have brought in authentic furniture and fixtures that represent different cultures in Ethiopia, people who have traveled to Ethiopia like it because it reminds them of their time abroad, everyone feels welcome.”

Workie and her husband Asfaw Amde have been making Ethiopian food in the Washington D.C. area now for thirty years, first in the Adams Morgan area and then in 1982 the Silver Spring location.

Back in the dining room a montage of voices and instruments plays over the sound system. Small groups gather around the colorful mesobs in hushed conversation. The smell of roasted garlic wafts in from the kitchen. Our waitress arrives. She asks us with a warm smile if we would like any drinks. I ask for a glass of Tej, which is an Ethiopian honey wine or mead. The wine, with its sweet bouquet and silky finish is like everything else in the restaurant, pleasant and comforting.

After some vigorous discussion my wife and I decide on our meal. My wife chooses the Zitzel Tibs which translates loosely into beef sautéed with onions, garlic and jalapeno’s. I choose a combination platter which offers Doro Wat, Yebeg Wat, Alitcha FitFit and greens. Wat’s are stew like entrees that are thicker and more flavorful than American stews. The Alitcha Fitfit is a curried stew.

As if this were not enough, I decide to order a dish called Kitfo. Kitfo is raw steak served with a homemade spicy cheese. If raw steak is not your thing than simply ask the kitchen to cook it to your liking. This dish has special meaning for Workie because it represents her husband Asfaw’s

In no time the waitress appears with a large ornate platter that takes up the entire mesob top. Both of our orders are placed on the same dish. This is an important part of the Ethiopian dining experience explains Workie “Eating is a social experience in Ethiopia. A meal is to be shared.”

Besides the mesob our waitress sets up a small side table in which she places a heaping basketful of injera. Injera is a large sourdough flatbread that is torn into smaller pieces and than dunked into stews and sauté’s. In short, the bread is your utensil.

At first my wife and I are a little unsure of ourselves, nervously stabbing the bread into the wat, tibs
and kitfo with a good deal of apprehension. However, after a few bites our stomachs take over and we begin to tear into the platter on piece of injera at a time.

The flavors that come from the stews and sautés are complex, intense, and spicy. For example the Dora Wat, which is a deep burgundy in color, reminds me of Indian stews I have tried in the past, but intriguingly more complex. The flavors are broad and range from red chili’s, butter, onion, garlic to possibly ginger; add the sourness of the injera to mix and you have a powder keg of flavor in one bite.

The kitfo has the good mineral flavor of a good cut of meat that is offset by the zest of the cheese. Combined with the injera, this is an incredibly refreshing dish that reminds me a great deal of streak tartar.

After a very short frenzy of tearing and dunking my wife and I are wholly full. Looking at the platter, we see that we have only eaten half our portion..

Sadly, we are simply too full to try the dessert, but I did see an interesting item on the menu — the Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony which is fittingly for a group of three or more. According to Workie the coffee ceremony is an integral part of Ethiopian society; an invitation from a neighbor is a sign of respect and loyalty, but it also has other significance as well, “The coffee ceremony is special in Ethiopia. Women gather around in the afternoon to drink coffee and just talk about their lives. Sometimes we do that here, we make coffee and have the ceremony and people will drop by to drink with us. It has a special place in our culture, so we like to share it with our guest.”

If you are new to Ethiopian food but want to try it out you may want to consider Addis Ababa’s lunch buffet which is open from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. seven days a week. The buffet is $7.95 and offers as many as seven dishes for you to try. But don’t let the cost of dinner scare you away
either, the most expensive entrée on the menu is a mere $14.75.

Besides food service, Addis Ababa also offers live music and dancing events on Friday and Saturday nights. Workie describes these events as “a typical Ethiopian cultural experience,” with musicians playing the washint-a flute like instrument, the keberoa-a kind of drum, and the masiko — an Ethiopian guitar. These are lively events with dancers wearing full cultural regalia.

Addis Ababa is located on 8233 Fenton Street, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910. They are open every day of the year from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. They can be contacted at

— by Will Marshall
photos by Eric Bond