Chuck enjoys traveling and over the years has had the opportunity to visit many fascinating places in the U.S. and the world.
We Combine Hiking And Foreign Dining
Since the COVID Pandemic prevents us from traveling abroad my wife decided that the next best thing to traveling abroad is to visit restaurants specializing in foreign and ethnic cuisine. For her it is not so much the food as the atmosphere and decor as she loves taking pictures of new and different surroundings. To borrow from the old expression, when in Rome do as the Romans do, we now practice if we’re not in Rome then dine in an Italian restaurant that looks like it is in Rome.
Of course we have dined in foreign restaurants both here and on our travels abroad. While it is part of the experience while traveling abroad, the foreign food restaurants we have dined in at home, with the exception of some Mexican restaurants, have always been a chain or other traditional restaurant serving Mexican, Chinese, Italian, etc. food that is often unrecognizable to people from those nations but popular with Americans.
So our current quest is to find and dine in little places that ordinary people living in Addis Ababa, Saigon, Shanghai, etc. stop in for lunch or dinner. America, of course, is the land of immigrants and a major portion of them are seeking economic opportunity and a better life. Like people everywhere, immigrants to the U.S. tend to settle near others who know and share the same language and culture.
For people everywhere food plays a big role in their culture and it isn’t long before an enterprising immigrant or immigrant family starts preparing and selling the traditional food from their homeland. Then it is only a matter of time before members of the larger society begin to overcome their initial perceptions and hesitations about the new people and start to checkout and patronize the new and exiotic restaurants popping up in the new immigrant communities.
We Discover The Abyssinia Restaurant And Cafe In Phoenix
On a recent weekend we headed up to Phoenix for a hike up Squaw Peak in the Phoenix Mountain Park and afterward drove to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant my wife had found online. The restaurant turned out to be a mere 12 minute drive from where we had been hiking.
Ethnic restaurants offer a dining experience that includes different or even exiotic food and a foreign or exiotic atmosphere. My wife was looking for the latter. While she likes new and different food she especially wants to dine on the food in a setting that makes her feel like she is in a different country.
However, it is up to the owner of the restaurant to select both the menu choices and dining room decor. To be successful the proprietor has to know who his or her target audience is and what they want. An immigrant audience may seek restaurants offering both traditional food and decor found in their previous homeland. However, if many in the community are looking to assimilate or help their children assimilate they may prefer a mixed menu of food from both their old homeland and new one along with decor similar to that of their new homeland. Non-immigrant locals also vary with some, like my wife, wanting authentic decor but being ambivalent about the type of food being served, while others may be interested in the food but not decor.
Abyssinia Restaurant And Cafe
Located at 842 E Indian School Road in a little strip mall on the northwest corner of Indian School Rd and North 9th St. it was easy to find. On first view it didn’t look like much on the outside. Just another business in a small strip mall on a busy street in a so-so area. However, upon opening the door and stepping inside we felt like we were in another country and my wife fell in love with it instantly.
There was a definite exiotic and foreign look and feel to the place which is exactly what my wife wanted. Except for the proprietor, my wife and I were the only ones in the restaurant (one person did enter a couple minutes after us but only to pick up a takeout order and he was out in less than 30 seconds).
The area is relatively small with booths along the two side wall for dining. At the back on the left is an alcove about half the width of the main dining area. This area had seven knee high tables constructed out of swirls of woven grass and a low cushion covered bench along each of the side walls. This was obviously a room designed for traditional Ethiopian family dining. It was also a dining space that didn’t allow for COVID social distancing and the red rope across the entrance made that clear.
Of course the dining area in the back was exactly what my wife was looking to be photographed in while dining so she asked if we could have our meal in that room. The proprietor first said no but, after a very short pause suddenly relented. I suspect that, other than the person with the takeout order, we were the day’s only customers and she didn’t want to lose us. Even if she did have other customers that day we had come in mid-afternoon too late for people looking for lunch and too early for dinner.
She gave us menus and when my wife asked what drinks they had she recommended Tej which she informed us was an Ethopian honey wine that had a low alcohol content. My wife then asked about the $20 lunch plate for two. Our hostess first pointed to the menu showing it was only available Monday through Thursday and this was Friday, but then she quickly relented and said she would prepare it. She was not only a kind person as well as a good businesswoman, she was struggling to keep her business afloat in these trying times and willing to accommodate the reasonable wishes of the few who were venturing out to dine during the pandemic.
I Recall A Visit To An Ethiopian Restaurant Years Ago
Years ago, when I was single, I got to travel around quite a bit and ate in lots of different restaurants both in the U.S. and abroad. So while my wife is enjoying new restaurant experiences I am reliving nostalgic memories.
Visiting Chinese restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown when I was in the Air Force my friends and I learned to eat with chopsticks. A few years later visiting a college friend in Washington, D.C. I had my first, and until now only, visit to an Ethiopian restaurant. On visits to a couple of Chinese, a Japanese and a Vietnamese restaurant recently I found that I was still proficient using chopsticks. However, so far my attempts to teach my wife how to eat with chopsticks have failed and I have had to call our waiter over and request traditional tableware for her.
Right after the large platter with nine different food dishes was set before us our hostess quickly returned with a small bowl filled with what looked like rolled napkins. However as soon as I touched one I remembered it was a roll of the flat spongy bread that diners in Ethiopian restaurants pull pieces off and use them to grasp portions of food from the common food tray. Like the chop sticks, my wife made a few attempts before I had to ask for a fork for her while I continued to use the traditional bread to pick up and consume my food along with the bread. It was a good meal and we emptied the tray.
We topped the meal off by splitting a slice of baklava.
Abyssinia & Ethiopia - Some Background
Abyssinia is a region in northern Ethiopia. The Abyssinian Empire emerged in the 13th Century and lasted until the 20th Century and included most of what is now Ethiopia. At present the name is associated with the northern area of the country and not the entire nation. Ethiopia has the distinction of being one of only two African nations (Liberia located on Africa’s west coast) not colonized by European nations in the 19th Century.
The nation is about two thirds Christian, about one third Muslum with about 2% other faiths including some Jewish. Since ancient times Ethiopia has been a state that has continuously engaged with neighboring states in the Middle East and Mediterranean area through trade and diplomatic intercourse. The small Jewish population appears to have existed since early Biblical times (although most of that population was evacuated to Israel when they were being persecuted during the civil war that raged in Ethiopia in the 1980s.
Additional Info About The Abyssinia Restaurant And Cafe
Our hostess who was obviously also the owner, appeared to be in her late 20s or early 30s and didn’t seem to have an accent. This led me to assume that she had either been raised in the U.S. or had been brought here as a young child.
However, in doing some research for this I found a January 2019 article on the AZ Big Media website about the Abyssinia Restaurant and Cafe in which it said that the owner had learned cooking at her mother’s side when growing up in Ethiopia. Her older brother came to Arizona to attend school and then decided to stay when he married and later had a child. His mother came over to live with him and his new family and in 2008 she joined her mother and her brother’s family in Phoenix.
Seeing the need for a place for the small Ethiopian community in Phoenix to come together and dine she found advisors and backers who helped her to open the The Abyssinia Restaurant and Cafe in 2015.
According to the 2019 article cited above, the restaurant seemed to be doing well as both a business and a gathering place for the neighboring community. Speaking with the owner while paying it was clear that the pandemic restrictions were adversely affecting this business along with other businesses. Hopefully the restaurant will survive the pandemic and continue to provide a delightful dining experience to locals and tourists alike.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Chuck Nugent
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on March 15, 2021:
Peggy - thanks for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed the article. The food we had was very good and both of us enjoyed the meal. Over all it was a great experience. We are continuing to look for similar dining opportunities to dine in small ethnic restaurants. While Tucson has some Phoenix is much larger and we are finding more opportunities there. Thanks again.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 15, 2021:
We have a similar place in Houston called the Blue Nile Ethiopian Restaurant. I enjoyed eating the meal with the spongy crepe-like bread (Injera) that is used to pick up the rest of the food items. My friend and I sampled a vegetarian and meat combination platter. It is always fun trying new places and dining on new foods. Thanks for sharing your experience.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on March 15, 2021:
MG Singh - I'm glad you enjoyed the Hub and thanks for your comments. Things have been opening up here in Arizona and the restaurants are very focused on protecting customers. We haven't encountered any that haven't been very clean, masks required and plenty of social distancing (most of the time we are considerably more than 6 feet from others). And our "travels" to ethnic restaurants have been a lot of fun.
MG Singh from UAE on March 14, 2021:
Nice article, one must make the most of the present situation