The New Face of Cultural Restaurants

In the past, very few traditional/ cultural restaurants operated in Addis and most of them were criticized for lacking diversity and failing to portray the culture and foods of all Ethiopians. Lately however, traditional restaurants specialized on the foods of a certain ethnic group are rising. Among them are Sidama, Wolayita and Oromo (Wollega) traditional food restaurants. EBR’s Kiya Ali explores.

One segment of the Ethiopian economy that has shown drastic growth over the past decade is definitely the service sector, which accounts for as much as 40Pct of the country’s annual real gross domestic product (GDP). Annual growth rate of close to 10Pct in the past ten years did not just come incidentally. It is the result of the expanding number of hotels and restaurants, mainly in Addis Ababa. But the majority were built with focus on the urban market and have failed to reflect the cultural diversity of Ethiopia. They have been unable to portray the culture and dishes of Ethiopians with a very diverse background.

This trend seems to be changing, however. Traditional restaurants specialized in the foods of diverse ethnic groups are growing in Addis. Establishments serving the dishes of Sidama, Wolayita and Wellega Oromo people are mushrooming in the capital. The recently operational Tayeso Traditional Wolayita Restaurant is the latest to join the industry. Located in the Haya Hulet area, Tayeso is founded by the renowned Ethiopian singer, Tigist Weyiso. She came up with the idea of opening the restaurant after eating Wolayitan traditional food in an eatery found in Arba Minch 12 years ago. She previously did not have such plans, even though she was born in Wolayita, one of the zones in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples state. Being a full time singer, she was not able to pursue her business idea for almost a decade. But a year ago, just after quitting singing for personal reasons, her dream was realized. Tigist did not second guess herself when moving from the podium to kitchen, a place with no crowds or rounds of applause. She has opened the first restaurant specialized in foods of Wolayita in Addis Ababa with a half a million Birr capital.

“Although I did not have the skill to make Wolayitan food, the mother of Kamuzu Kassa (her husband and a renowned Ethiopian composer) taught me how to do so,” Tigist tells EBR.

Wisely learning the recipes, Tigist in turn trained 13 of her employees. Addis’s food lovers, tourists and many others were quick to respond and with the type of food offered, she soon become the talk of the town. “I came to her restaurant not only to fill my stomach; it is like an adventure for me. It is a place where I got to know one of my country’s traditional foods,” says Biruk Girma, a regular customer. “I brought many friends to share my experiences.”

The proliferation of traditional restaurants like Tayeso Traditional Wolaitan Restaurant doesn’t only mirror the fact that Ethiopia is indeed a multi-ethnic country. It also serves as an exciting opportunity for consumers seeking new culinary experiences.

Such developments also present opportunities for those missing their traditional foods. Fasika Alemu, 36, a legal practitioner born in Wolayita, moved to Addis Ababa pursuing better education opportunities at age 12 . But overtaken by daily routines, frequent returns to her homeland are very difficult for her. Especially during defying moments, she misses the get-together with her families in Wolayita. Now the opening of Tayeso Traditional Wolayita Restaurant helped Fasika to recount her best childhood moments. She now finds herself at the Restaurant at least once in a week. “This is really a nice and authentic place, and charge a very fair price for the quality of the food it provides,” she says. “Although the restaurant is small, it suits for group, family or couple getaway. Not only the food, the interior design and the service also remind me of my childhood.”

The interior of Tayeso is decorated with black, yellow and red colored scarves originally made by the Wolayita people. The menu, chairs and tables are also decorated in the same brand colors of the Wolaita. In addition to the distinct types of food offered, most traditional restaurants in the capital and other parts of Ethiopia are known for creating a unique architectural setting, making them easily identifiable by customers.

Tayeso has a special menu for its customers. For example, Tayeso Special, preferred by many customers, has seven types of foods: Santa Qochqochua, Logomua, Pila Santa, Bilandua, Shikirkirit, Kitfo, and Qocho (false banana). These are served in one dish with small traditional plates called Taba. The price for a full order of Tayeso Special is ETB500, with a half-order also available for ETB250. Cultural foods such as Mutchua, Kamuzu Style, Boya, and Bula are sold for a price between ETB50 and ETB250.

Around five kilometers away from Tayeso is Fantu, another traditional restaurant, where food lovers can enjoy Sidama’s traditional food. Located in Bole District near the commonly known area of Dildiy, Fantu is easily recognizable to passersby. The restaurant looks like a Sidama hut made with bamboo with a spiky top, serving as the dome, protecting against heavy rainfall. Its roof, walls, doors, windows, and ceiling are all made from the bamboo tree. The beauty of the house, both outside and inside, reflects the skills and talents of the Sidama people who built the restaurant’s hut from scratch and is expected to serve for 40 years.

“Experiencing Sidama’s food inside such a hut gives special pleasure,” says Semera Kidana, a customer. Fantu serves foods such as Cukaba and Burasama for ETB200 and ETB300, respectively, as well as Gafoma and Chanchaname for ETB80 and ETB60, correspondingly.

Fantu was opened in Addis Ababa nine months ago with a startup capital of one million Birr, but the first branch of the restaurant was opened in Hawassa few years back. “Addis, being home to people with diverse backgrounds, is not a difficult place for such businesses,” explains Ayala Aleyu, manager of the restaurant that has close to 100 employees.

Another restaurant specialized in foods of a certain area or ethnic group, is a small eatery opened around Lideta. It serves Wollega’s traditional food. Customers of this restaurant are not only local people, but also foreigners looking to experience unique and varied traditional foods of Ethiopians.

Operating such specialized restaurants is not without challenges. While lack of skilled employees is a major challenge for the businessowners, rising costs and inflation are other problems being faced by the companies. “We have to pay ETB70,000 monthly rent. Prices of raw food items are mounting daily,” Ayal explains. Tigist, who pays ETB30,000 for rent, shares Ayala’s concern. “Water and electricity interruption are also big obstacles for our business,” she tells EBR.

Although such traditional restaurants are increasing in number, they are criticized for lacking well-defined marketing strategies encompassing identifying customer groups, tailoring product offerings, as well as other promotional efforts. Had they been able to do so, they would have contributed much to the tourism earnings of the country, according to industry insiders. “For instance, Australia, which managed to promote and build the capacity of such businesses, is now the world’s top tourist destination, partly because of its unique foods. Ethiopia has the capacity to achieve similar successes as it has authentic traditional cuisines,” says Asefa Asrate, an expert in hotel and tourism. “But this can be achieved only if the government encourages such businesses with incentives.”

8th Year • Dec.16 – Jan.15 2020 • No. 81

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