I just sat down to dinner in Azeb’s restaurant in Abi Adi. Although the dusk is lending some additional light, there is only one bare light bulb illuminating the large room. There is also one stereo speaker playing the typical saxophone-dominated Ethiopian pop music. The whole dining room slants a bit because the ground wasn’t graded level before the concrete was poured. It’s not too jarring, but is enough to make you notice it and feel like you are eating in some sort of bizarre Dr. Seuss house. At least there’s concrete floors in this restaurant, unlike most of the competition in this town. As I look up at the ceiling I can see tiny pin pricks of the sky through old nail holes in the sheet metal. The metal veneer is supported by gnarly, but strong, eucalyptus twigs – reminiscent of Gandalf’s magic staff.
I’m sitting at one of the 9 tables in the room, waiting for my usual order to go through, and sharing the mutual company of a few other Ethiopians. I ordered a beer and a plate of babayonettoo, the standard vegetarian food served every “fasting” day on Wednesday and Friday. It’s a big piece of injera served on a pizza tray sized plate with a bunch of veggie stews and salads on top. It’s probably my favorite thing to eat in Abi Adi right now because of the variety of flavors and ingredients. There is no written menu here. I just heard the waitress explain to another patron that today you can only order babayonettoo or shorro, the other staple of the Ethiopian diet, made from ground up chickpeas. Throughout the whole week there are about a dozen different things to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I like all of them, but the options are limited. My order was taken by the waitress who then immediately shouted it at the hole in the wall that leads to the outdoor kitchen so the cooks can prepare it. “Helen! Hanti babayonettoo!!!”
She brings over my beer. Next she brings out my massive plate of food. It’s easy for the kitchen to serve this dish up quickly because they’ve spent the last day or two cooking all the different stews, so when an order comes in all they have to do is ladle out a spoonful of each type of “wat.” The waitress grabs the salt and vinegar from another guy’s table – hopefully he’s done using it – and seasons the salad in the middle of my plate. There is only one salt shaker in the restaurant today.
I inhale the food, using the injera as a spoon/napkin and my hand as the shovel. There’s a sink in the corner which is thankfully used by everyone prior to eating. This one even has soap today, an extra bonus. My friend Allison says that I eat babayonetoo like an Ethiopia since I eat all of it, quickly. I guess that’s a compliment? Throughout my meal, I pause to drink my Dashen beer, and look around. I notice that there is a huge tree trunk along one of the walls of the restaurant. You can’t see the tree’s canopy because of the sheet metal roof, only the trunk, which has been nonchalantly painted blue, just like the rest of the wall. The tree pretends to be a wall, just like I’m pretending to be an Ethiopian. We both suck at it. I can hear a baby crying in the compound next door to the kitchen. I finish my meal and beer and pay 32 birr for the whole thing – about 1 dollar and 75 cents. Cheap but excellent! Just another day living the dream right?