Where to get an authentic taste of Ethopian culture & cuisine in Joburg

Anything that can be found in Ethiopia — from traditional meals to fabrics —can be found in Little Addis in the Johannesburg CBD, say expats

06 January 2019 - 00:00 By Dennis Molewa
It's unusual for Ethiopians to eat alone. Food is always shared, from the same large tray, even with strangers.
It's unusual for Ethiopians to eat alone. Food is always shared, from the same large tray, even with strangers.
Image: Oliver Petrie/@visual-nomad

Johannesburg has been SA's overachiever since it was established around the first gold-mining camp. Since then it has become one of the main players in the global economic network on the African continent. 

Today, Joburg is an eclectic, cosmopolitan metropolis. Foreigners make up 40% of the city's population and contribute significantly to economic growth, which is a staggering proportion compared to the rest of the country's average of about 3%. This offers great cultural diversity, with a multitude of different immigrant communities, mainly from Africa but also from Asia and the Middle East.

Foreigners make up 40% of the Joburg's population, which is a staggering proportion compared to the rest of the country's average of about 3%

Curious locals, as well as Joburg's increasing number of international visitors, are shifting their gaze towards the many vibrant immigrant communities and their fascinating food cultures.

The Ethiopian community in Rahima Moosa Street is one of the most established. Known as "Little Addis", its heart is located on the edge of the Fashion District. It includes Ethiopian immigrants with Protestant, orthodox and Muslim backgrounds from over seven ethnic groups, principally the Amharas and Tigrayans from Ethiopia's north.

"Anything that can be found in Ethiopia, from the most traditional Ethiopian meals, spices, coffee beans and tea to fabrics and clothes can be found here. This is where Ethiopians in SA exchange ideas, meet people, reunite or seal business deals," says Angelo Tumssa, who together with his wife Netsi, owns Netsanet Ethiopia in the African Traditional Centre, which is the biggest supplier in Johannesburg of Ethiopian favourite Bedele and St George beer, raw spices, coffee and fabrics.

From left, Saadiq Soeker, the writer, Khofhi the King, Jodit Abidara and Anna Capraro.
From left, Saadiq Soeker, the writer, Khofhi the King, Jodit Abidara and Anna Capraro.
Image: Oliver Petrie/@visual-nomad

At the beginning of 2005, Tumssa was selling shoes in Pretoria, dreaming of ways to grow and expand his business.

He met Netsi, and over the past 13 years they've become the biggest supplier here of traditional Ethiopian products. They're also successful restaurateurs and spice traders, who've significantly shaped the Ethiopian food culture in Joburg.

After Netsi gave birth to her daughter Sunshine nine years ago, she decided to open a restaurant on the 2nd floor of His Majesty's Building, once a medical centre, in Eloff Street. She serves plant-based food only, and her restaurant stands out with its upmarket feel. The glossy wood-panelled walls and cotton tablecloths reflect the Italian influence prevalent in Ethiopian culture, creating the feel of an African-style trattoria.

Soft Ethiopian music plays in the background, and wholesome Ethiopian vegetarian fare is served with white bread made from rice flour, or brown bread made from teff, a nutritious, gluten-free ancient grain native to Ethiopia.

A TREASURE TROVE

The Traditional Centre, one floor below, is a treasure trove where people can find Ethiopian fabrics woven according to centuries-old techniques, organic coffee beans, spices, as well as orange-red powdered mitmita made from birds-eye chilli, fragrant Berbere, a combination of 12 spices and other key ingredients.

They have a small tea and coffee house too, where you can buy incense, art and the equipment required for the ritualised coffee ceremony, practised multiple times a day.

Angelo looks after imports and deliveries and Netsi manages distribution to Ethiopian retailers and restaurants across the country.

"My wife is a natural healer and nurturer," says Angelo. "Many people come to her for advice. She's fixed many marriages and regularly visits members of our community when they're sick - she's even delivered a baby. She's very community-oriented."

Angelo sips his Ethiopian coffee flavoured with the bitter tena'adam herb (also known as rue) before he shares the secret to his success: "It's due to my strong, emancipated wife, and to staying humble," he says.

Next door is Bersufekad, a busy restaurant and butchery that reflects the Arabic influences in East African culture. It is well patronised, and doesn't stop pumping throughout lunchtime. When the daily traffic reaches its peak, it is reminiscent of the bath house in the movie Spirited Away, as trays of Ethiopian delicacies seem to fly through the air.

A butcher in a white jacket with a prominent moustache and a solemn face is standing at the back, sharpening his knife. He stands on an elevated platform overseeing service as if from a holy dais.

Bersufekad is the perfect place to taste Ethiopian kefto, slices of raw beef, an Ethiopian speciality, served with mitmita, fresh bread and injera.

Another compulsory experience is the espresso macchiato made from freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans and served on a table outside. Patrons dining alone can expect invitations from neighbouring tables to join them - it's unusual for Ethiopians to eat alone. Food is always shared, from the same large tray, even with strangers.

Image: Oliver Petrie/@visual-nomad
Coffee beans roasting over burning coals.
Coffee beans roasting over burning coals.
Image: Oliver Petrie/@visual-nomad

There is much to explore in Little Ethiopia. Where once offices existed there are now improvised kitchens and restaurants. Some are used to make injera - a fermented teff batter poured onto a lightly oiled cast-iron skillet (similar to crepes).

You'll find people roasting coffee beans over burning coals in cramped hallways. The way people have to arrange and negotiate space creates a mysterious atmosphere.

Angelo and Netsi believe in the value that immigrant communities can add to a country.

"We believe that the success of a business isn't measured by turnover or profit, but by the positive impact it has on the community. We feel welcome in SA and have built many meaningful friendships. Although we've travelled extensively to countries like Israel, the US, Australia and Italy, SA is where we feel at home."


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