Addis Ababa has long been a friendly place for more dessert minded people. With cafes and bakeries on almost every corner catering to all kinds of tastes, sweets are a cherished part of everyday life. However, in the last few years, ice cream, an afterthought in cafes and relegates to the status of children’s treat, has started to make a comeback. With higher standards for quality, and more variety in flavour, ice cream has started to come back into the consciousness of city residents who have fond memories of it from their childhoods. New shops, dedicated solely to ice cream, have started to spread across the city, as EBR’s Menna Asrat reports.
Addis Ababa’s sweet tooth dates back decades. From the bakeries opened by European émigrés to the cafes dotted about every corner of the city today, sweets have become an important part of the day to day live of many especially those who lives in urban areas. However, trends in Addis tastes have been changing lately. Ice cream, once a treat relegated to children, has been making something of a comeback over the last few years.
New stores, dedicated just to ice cream have been popping up all over the city. Instead of just being an afterthought of cafes that specialise in cakes and coffee, ice cream is becoming an art of its own.
Liya Assefa, a 24 year old from Addis, is one of those who enjoys going out with her friends for ice cream. “Sometimes we go when we’re out for lunch or dinner, but other times, going out for ice cream is an event on its own,” she told EBR. “It’s nice to do that. When I was a child, I used to go out with my parents for ice cream, but I don’t remember it being this good.”
One of the newer places that have opened in recent time to cater to the more dessert minded residents of the city is Scoop Ice Cream, located in Bole District. It was the brainchild of Haile Awegechew. Growing up in Addis before moving to Canada, Haile was well aware of the shortcomings of the ice cream already being served in the capital. “The ice cream wasn’t of high quality,” he says. “The amount of sugar was off, and because it wasn’t easy to access flavours and ingredients, it was difficult to make ice cream to international standards.”
He travelled throughout Italy and Canada to try and study how to make good ice cream, and brought the results back to his homeland, along with imported machinery and ingredients. “It is still difficult to find the flavourings and equipment that is needed in Ethiopia, so whatever I need, I import,” he explains. However, the shortage of foreign currency has made it difficult for him to import what he needs in the right quantities. “It’s challenging,” Haile explains. “But if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t have got into the business. I think it’s very rewarding to know that we have such dedicated customer bases, who ask us not to change anything in our recipes, or our flavours.”
Indeed, many of the customers who flock to ice cream parlours now tend to be adults, as Haile has observed. “We have a steady flow throughout the week. On the weekends, children tend to come in, but the rest of the time, it is adults. I’ve seen people of all ages come in to enjoy some ice cream, even people in their seventies.”
According to information from the International Dairy Foods Association, the origins of ice cream are known to reach back as far as the second century BC, although no specific date of origin nor inventor has been definitively credited with its discovery. According to some historical evidence, Alexander the Great enjoyed snow and ice flavored with honey and nectar, and biblical references show that King Solomon was fond of iced drinks during harvesting. Nero Claudius Caesar, an emperor of the Roman Empire, was reported to have sent servants into the mountains for snow, to which fruits and juices would be added for flavouring.
Over a thousand years later, Marco Polo returned to Italy from the Far East with a recipe that closely resembled what is now called sherbet. According to historical estimates, this recipe evolved into ice cream at some point in the 16th century. Ice cream was discovered in England around the same time, or even earlier, than Italy. “Cream Ice,” as it was then called, regularly appeared at the table of Charles I during the 17th century. France was introduced to similar frozen desserts in 1553 by the Italian Catherine de Medici when she became the wife of Henry II of France. It wasn’t until 1660 that ice cream was made available to the general public. The Sicilian Procopio introduced a recipe blending milk, cream, butter and eggs at Café Procope, the first café in Paris.
It was Italian immigrants that brought ice cream to Ethiopia, and started the love affair that persists to this day. Like Liya, Abel Girum, 35, is one of those who grew up with Addis’s traditional ice cream, and is now enjoying its resurgence. “When I was younger, I’d go with my parents or my friends to cafes to have ice cream,” he says. “At the time, it seemed like it was something that cafes served to try and get more business. So parents would come in to have coffee and buy their children ice cream at the same time. But now, the quality is much better, the flavours are much better, and there is more variety. When there are places that are dedicated just to ice cream, the quality got better.”
However, as Haile points out, the issues of getting quality ingredients may hold the industry back. “It’s not just the issue of cost and hard currency that is a problem,” he says. “There is also a lack of quality ingredients. I myself import everything from abroad.”
In any case, the future is looking better than ever for ice cream lovers in Addis. As increased expertise from abroad brings about more variations in techniques and flavours, there is still growth and change in the future of the industry in Addis.
7th Year • Dec.16 – Jan.15 2019 • No. 69