As recently as the early 90s, Addis Ababa was gripped by a civil war under the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam. For much of the globe, Addis remains an unknown quantity, vaguely associated with East Africa and coffee. In reality, Addis is pitched as the capital of Africa; a city that tells the story of the drive and innovation present in a culture which exists simultaneously beside a deep pride in, and respect for, being Ethiopian. This juxtaposing value system means traditional shoulder dancing and ‘Ethio Jazz’ are upheld in the same esteem as upcoming fashion designers and a rapidly developing economy.
When it comes to food, the best is still the traditional fare. We advise ordering anything fermented–local beer and injera (flat bread made from fermented superfood teff) are in top form in this city. Vegetarians are well catered to as Ethiopians (of certain religious beliefs) fast many days of the year according to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s ritual, which means they omit meat and dairy on a regular basis. And the coffee: after trying Ethiopian coffee, you’ll probably never go back to a cappuccino again.
The adventure will start In Hong Kong, hopefully for you in the Ethiopian Airlines lounge, a lounge that serves all manner of pre-flight snack and is decked in broody carpet and leather chairs. The inflight meals are non-offensive to any passenger, though there aren't excessive amounts of Ethiopian food. Both business and economy are tended to by kind, attentive and playful air stewards, who give a good indication of the greater culture. As did the guests who flew back to Addis, with their suspenders and generally chic fashion that sees to have fallen out of the 70s in the best possible way.
Arrive at 7am at ADD International Airport. All direct flights with Ethiopian Airlines depart Hong Kong at either 1230 or 0100 and arrive 0700 or 0730, everyday. Ethiopian Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, and has been in operation for over 70 years. They are dominant in Africa, leading the continent with near unrivalled service and reach.
Travel via airport transfer to Harmony Hotel in the area of Bole for easy access to everything and close proximity to the airport. They also have one of the best hotel gyms we've seen.
Hop over the road and start the day with an overly large dose of sugar. Even those with a great dislike of sweet cakes might be persuaded by the traditional honey cake at Cupcake Delights Bakery. This chewy, golden treat goes well with a traditional tea infused with cinnamon.
Cupcake Delights Bakery: Bole, opposite Beer Garden Inn, Addis Ababa, +251 91 262 5271.
Though gaining insight into dark history isn’t always top of people’s list of experiences when in a new land, it’s important to know the details of a culture, no matter how gory. The confronting feelings which are incurred by a visit to the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum offer vital perspective to the days of the socialist governing bodies, and for that reason it’s useful to dedicate a good chunk of time here at the beginning of the trip.
Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum: Bole Road, Addis Ababa, +251 11 515 6197
A food tour for people who might be averse to tours is what Addis Eats provides, offering an experience which is more like going to five different eateries with an Addis local and a couple of other out-of-towners than being paraded about as “obviously not from here and naive enough to buy that pair of slippers”. You’ll be very full by the end of this tour led by charismatic hosts, who will lead you through hidden gems that serve traditional vegetarian plates to a coffee ceremony, a juice bar offering deliciously thick (often avocado incorporated) fresh juice and finishing with Ethiopian favourite kibs- a type of flavoursome cubed beef stir fry.
Photo credit: Aziz Ahmed
There will be no panicking at this disco, but there will be a lot of Ethiopian jazz. The African Jazz Village at the Hotel Ghion was founded by Mulatu Astatke, aka the father of Ethio Jazz. This style of music is addictive, blending traditional Ethiopian rhythms with Afro-funk, jazz, soul and Latin melodies. The intimate venue is an ideal place to listen to first class artists.
The African Jazz Village: Ras Desta Damtue Avenue, around National Stadium, Addis Ababa 1643.
Coffee doesn’t get much better than at Tomoca, the chicest and most established coffee outpost in Addis (a feat in a country that takes its coffee as seriously as the Indians take their chai). There are a few of them around town, but this one is a modern espresso bar that wouldn’t be amiss in Seattle. (For those seeing a more ‘authentic’ coffee experience, another store exists on Churchill Avenue on Wawel Street.)
Tomoca Coffee: Wawel Street, Addis Ababa.
Walk literally two metres down the road to Kategna, a favourite with locals and the kind of place you feel like you want to be seen in. The ginger tea (ask for ginger only) is particularly good here, and serves as a primer for the luxurious platter (the veg and meat are great) and the injera is some of the best in the city. Add a fried fish, which is a local delicacy, served whole with scores in the flesh for easy eating. Squeeze a touch of lime over for euphoric eating.
Kategna: Gabon Street, Addis Ababa, +251 091 151 2400.
Photo credit: Aziz Ahmed
Honey wine (tej), a communal meal and live music; all the makings of a memorable final night in the city. Order as much as your party can handle so you can try as much as possible, but do not leave without eating the fasting plate (vegetarian) and the shiro. Traditional dance and music ensue, which goes very nicely with the tej if you have any left. Get involved if they ask, there are few more enjoyable challenges than trying to master Ethiopian shoulder dancing.
Yod Abyssyinia Traditional Food: Bole Medhaniyalem Area, Addis Ababa, + 251 011 611 2985. yodethiopia.com
Because flights back to Hong Kong with Ethiopian Airlines depart around 1am everyday, arrive at the airport a little earlier than normal to hit one last coffee before you leave. The macchiato is a signature of Ethiopian coffee culture, and oddly, the macchiato available at the coffee shop which sits to the far left of the terminal looking out towards the planes might just be one of the best in the city.
ADD International Airport
ADD International Airport - Macchiato