Shiffa is probably going to die from food poisoning; she gives us a short story of how her craving for authentic cuisine has landed her in trouble. If you still are interested in trying Ethiopian food after this blog post then head to Little Addis in the Maboneng Precinct or Abysinia Restaurant in Kensington, both in Johannesburg. 

I am proud to be half Ethiopian, and while I don’t have the typical traits of medal-worthy athleticism or long uber-silky hair, I can truly say that I definitely have a strong pull towards Ethiopia’s rich history and culture. Growing up, my dad or Abbabih would expose us to many Ethiopian traditions; I’ve been to coffee ceremonies, I’ve seen and done my share of their unique shoulder-shaking dances at Ethiopian New Year (which strangely enough is in September). I’ve also always enjoyed Ethiopian food, which has become my Kryptonite.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Photo courtesy of howtocookgreatethiopian.com

When made well, Ethiopian dishes offer the human taste buds with the most exciting unique combinations of texture and flavor. Typically, meals are rich in color and variety; vegetables like lentils, potatoes, carrots and beetroot are often served alongside beautifully tender meats steeped in an array of heavenly scented spicy sauces. Food is always served on a slightly sour fermented rice flour blanket called Injera. These meals are addictive.

Ethiopian food at the Neighbourgoods Market, Johannesburg (2012)
Photo courtesy of Yetu

The highly specific ingredients used in Ethiopian cooking are hard to source and almost impossible to re-create at home, so when the need for Ethiopian Sunday dinner arose, I knew that my mother and I would have to venture far from home to find it. So we hit the streets. The first stop was Burnett Street in Hatfield, Pretoria where I was disappointed to learn that our regular Ethiopian spot had been taken over by Moroccans. I suggested we go to an area that holds a few childhood memories, where my family once owned businesses, where many of Pretoria’s working class immigrant population has settled. We head to Sunnyside. After sunset, Sunnyside ironically loses its title. From an early age I have believed that Sunnyside becomes an unsavory place where the vibrancy and energy in the air is matched by its danger and volatility. Dark characters literally lurk around corners. So this trip has to be a quick in and out.

After receiving a second dose of bad news, the other upstairs upscale(ish) restaurant we want to order from has closed its kitchen. I am heavy hearted and beyond desperate for my precious Sunday treat. A Malawian doorman tells us that another restaurant is open, 200m away, in a building called Sunny Lodge, and this news sends my spirits up high. We mission on to Sunny Lodge. Boy this lodge is dodge, should we turn away and head back to suburbia? No. Never. We’ve come all this way, I’m starved and besides I’ve ordered at enough sketchy restaurants to know more often than not that the scalier the restaurant, the more authentic and awesome that food tastes. It is this romantic sentiment that my mother and I carry with us as we decide to enter Sunny Loge. We walk tentatively down the longest and darkest of passageways and every now and then we pass groups of men leaning against the walls. We pass open doors where I glimpse at people seated on chairs. Boiling chicken, then urine smells stain the air, before finally the hypnotic familiar fumes of Injera take over, and we have arrived, oh yes this place is siff! Siff! Siff! So the food will definitely be amazing.

A typical Ethiopian meal.
Photo courtesy of localeats.com 

I’m familiar with Ethiopian people, I know that they are not used to strangers in their space, so I’m not surprised when our welcome is less than warm. The food will make up for that. We order 2 batches of mixed platters, one for me and one for mom. We wait a while staring back at the cold faces of other patrons, the crumbling walls and the fuzzy AFCON soccer game on the TV in the corner. Ten minutes and two take-away boxes later we bolt out of the building and into our car. Mission accomplished it’s time for a shoulder-shaking Ethiopian victory dance. I’m too excited, but a little nervous as I cannot smell the normally strong smelling spices present in Ethiopian cuisine. I take a peek into a take-way box, that’s set on my lap and I’m not really impressed. The veg looks alright but the meat seems dry, but I’m still hopeful that it will taste great and hit the right spot.

Not one to pass an opportunity to eat Ethiopian I stupidly tuck in and my soul is crushed. A portion of lentils was severely overcooked, the meat is as hard as wood, the cabbage had soil grains in it, and the soft blanket of Injera was more like a stale cloak of sandpaper. My mom isn’t enjoying her meal either, and warns me not to eat the boiled egg, oops too late. We also find raw meat in our boxes, and while this wouldn’t cause much surprise as it’s normally an Ethiopian delicacy, the sheer thought of the room where that meat came from is enough to put any fool off. Enough! This has been a weird enough experience. I’m positive that I’ll have food poisoning first thing in the morning – if I make it that far… 

Now the question of who’s to blame? Do I blame the other restaurants for being closed down and closed for the evening? Do I blame the Malawian man who told us about Sunny Lodge? Should I blame my supportive mom because that’s what silly daughters like me do? Or do I blame myself and my insatiable appetite for Ethiopian dinner? Perhaps I won’t blame anyone, I’ll take this as a life experience that holds its own morals which I’ve yet to figure out and while this was an exciting adventure with a disgusting outcome I still am by no means put off Ethiopian food. If I’m well enough, I may even continue chasing the craving tomorrow, but with caution of course.