One sunny afternoon, while my car received a much-needed wash near Meskel Square, a craving for something light and flavorful gnawed at me. Lenten options, usually heavy on spice, held little appeal. I found myself relying on the guidance of the car wash workers. They pointed me towards a quaint cafe nearby.

Stepping into the diminutive space, I was warmly greeted by two attendants: a young woman with a bright smile and an older lady tending the cash register. I thought pastries were their sole offering, but a delightful surprise awaited – a menu boasting savoury delights. I opted for Shiro, requesting a touch of butter and omitting the green peppers for a milder experience.

The meal arrived, a simple and artfully presented tableau. Two varieties of injera, black and white, framed a clay vessel overflowing with simmering stew. Fragrant steam wafted upwards, a fragrant invitation. Each bite was a burst of flavour, a testament to the cook's skill. With a satisfied sigh, I settled the 300 Br bill and left a token of appreciation for both the server and the unseen cook.

Finding a satisfying meal is a constant quest, which is why I frequent familiar places. Dining out can be a gamble – disappointment can lurk behind enticing menus, and sometimes the cost seems unjustified. Friends returning from the US recounted a night at a renowned restaurant. They enjoyed attentive service and delicious food, but the hefty bill, nearly 5,000 Br for a couple of meals and soft drinks, left them stunned. Compared to their dining experiences in the US, it felt excessively expensive.

However, my perspective extends beyond the price tag. The value of a meal is intertwined with the service provided. Price sensitivity stems from several factors. Poorly prepared or skimpy portions, regardless of cost, are a letdown. Equally important are clean facilities and a comfortable ambience. Cramped seating and dingy restrooms detract from the overall experience.

One burger joint defied expectations. Locally sourced, high-quality ingredients and meticulous staff training resulted in consistently good food and exceptional service. Every detail mattered, from flawless preparation to a welcoming atmosphere that encouraged patrons to linger and savour their meals. Imagine knowledgeable waiters guiding through the menu, a beautifully crafted ambience designed for relaxation, and a clear focus on creating an unforgettable evening.

Addis Abeba boasts a growing trend of upscale restaurants catering to those seeking an exclusive and sophisticated dining experience. At a restaurant I once visited, reservations are the norm, catering to a regular clientele who enjoy personalised attention. Knowledgeable waiters readily answer questions, guiding diners through a diverse range of international cuisines, from French classics to Indian curries. The ambience plays a crucial role, in transporting guests to the homeland of the cuisine. Traditional décor and staff attire further enrich the experience. While the price point may seem high, the combination of impeccable service, top-notch ingredients, and unique cultural immersion justifies the cost.

Years ago, a Lebanese restaurant in Lome, Togo, presented a delightful challenge. A language barrier with the waitstaff made deciphering the unfamiliar menu items a comical struggle. Despite the initial frustration, the friendly owner intervened, bridging the communication gap and treating me to a truly memorable Hummus experience. This simple chickpea dish, reminiscent of Ethiopia's Shiro, took on a new dimension with olive oil and fresh herbs. The owner's warm hospitality, evident even through the language barrier, transformed a meal into a cultural exchange.

Fine dining is not just about the price tag; the entire experience matters. It is a chance to delve into new cultures, appreciate the unseen effort behind the scenes, and create lasting memories. Knowledgeable staff, a comfortable ambience, and top-notch ingredients all contribute to a truly memorable meal. While communication can be a hurdle, even in international dining settings, overcoming it can lead to unexpected delights and forge genuine cultural connections.

Diners have a plethora of options to explore, from traditional street vendors to upscale eateries. Finding a reliable restaurant that consistently delivers both in taste and experience is akin to discovering a hidden treasure. The emergence of niche eateries provides diners with unique experiences tailored to their preferences. From fusion food trucks to pop-up dining events, adventurous food enthusiasts can explore a myriad of culinary offerings beyond traditional restaurant settings. These unconventional dining experiences add a sense of excitement and discovery to the gastronomic journey, enticing patrons to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new flavours and textures.

In the age of social media, dining out has become more than a means of sustenance; it is a form of self-expression and social currency. Trendy cafes and Instagrammable restaurants attract patrons seeking aesthetically pleasing dishes that are as photogenic as they are delicious. The presentation of food has taken on newfound importance, with chefs incorporating artistic elements into their culinary creations to captivate diners visually and stimulate their senses.

For me, dining out is a sensory journey that sparks connections and creates lasting memories. Whether it is the comfort of a familiar neighbourhood spot or the excitement of trying something new, each experience is an opportunity to celebrate the richness of life.

PUBLISHED ON Apr 27,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1252]

Bereket Balcha works in the aviation industry and is passionate about fiction writing and can be reached at (

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