Workers in the kitchen at Boss International Restaurant prepare dishes for the lunch crowd at their establishment behind Millenium Hall.

Bilise Adisho, a 25-year-old medical doctor working at Hayat Hospital, enjoys hanid, a popular Yemeni food at the King of Yemen Restaurant in the capital.

Bilise has been going to Middle Eastern restaurants since she was a child. One of the reasons she prefers using these eateries is because the meals are halal, meaning they are acceptable under Islamic teaching.

She usually goes to one of the many Middle Eastern restaurants in Addis with her family and friends when she wants to spend time with them.

“I’m happy their number is increasing, because I can enjoy different menus,” she says.

Middle Eastern restaurants are booming at breakneck speed in the capital recently. There are 86 foreign restaurants registered under the Addis Abeba Culture & Tourism Bureau. These restaurants are concentrated in Bole and Yeka districts.

Out of the total, 21 of them have licenses to provide Arabian foods. The Bureau standardises and issues licenses to the businesses based on the quality of their cooking appliances and services.

Sana'a, one of the Yemeni restaurants, serves mandias its specialty. It was founded by Ethio-Yemeni national Mohammed Salim Mohammed with 100,000 Br in capital 17 years ago.

Abdulhakim Elias and his two friends are fans of the garden-variety Middle Eastern restaurant's mandidish, which is usually made from rice, lamb or chicken, and a mixture of spices called hawaij. Typically, it is served with lamb to make it tastier.

Most of the Middle Eastern restaurants serve mandion their menus. It is a Yemeni national food, but it has become popular in restaurants across the Middle East now, according to Shafi Workich, general manager of Sana'a Restaurant.

Customers dine at Sa'naa Restaurant near Olympia.

Numerous customers from different countries, including many Ethiopians, regularly dine at the restaurant. Many foreigners from France and the United States choose Saltah and Fahsa, rice with a fairly spicy sauce. On the other hand, the favorite among Chinese customers is Mugumer, Sanaa’s special stewed lamb.

The restaurant is usually overcrowded with Middle Eastern nationals, Djiboutians and Somalis, according to Shafi.

The food items used for cooking are now imported from Djibouti, since Yemen collapsed into civil war in 2015.

Boss International Restaurant serves Syrian oriental food as its specialty..

The restaurant was established as a share company by Bassil Michael, Yasir Sabir and their friends in 2017. The restaurant also bakes Arab sweet pastries, baklava, and cakes with unique designs.

Their customers usually prefer traditional Syrian foods like shitawl, shishkibab, hummus and mixed grill. Like other Middle Eastern restaurants in town, Boss International Restaurant also serves the renowned Yemeni dish mandi, priced from 300 Br to 500 Br.

Following the civil war that broke out in Syria back in 2011, Bassil, one of the managers of the restaurant, left Syria for Ethiopia to start the business with his friends.

Customers of Boss, dominated by Ethiopian nationals, started flooding the restaurant right after it opened two years ago, according to Bassil. Currently, the restaurant has 50 employees. Unlike the other Arab restaurants in Addis Abeba, Boss gives 24-hour service to its customers.

Lebanese food is also becoming popular these days, and Allebnany Restaurant is one of them, remaining in business since 2013.

Sa'naa Restaurant near Olympia.

Fruit, vegetables, rice and bread are consumed more than meat in the average Lebanese meal. Hummus (chickpeas, sesame seeds and garlic paste), rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves, mashed beans, hot and cold salads, grilled seafood and pickled vegetables are the most popular Lebanon oriental dishes.

Except for the ingredients to make ice cream, which is imported from Italy, all ingredients are bought from the local market, according to Issac Baino, one of the founders of the restaurant.

It is rare to see Lebanese meals served in courses; they are usually served all at once. Tabbouleh (a salad made with cracked wheat) is widely consumed in Allebnany.

Most customers coming to their restaurant are foreigners from different embassies and Turkish, Lebanese, Chinese, Armenian, Kuwaiti, Indian and Somali tourists, while the number of their Ethiopian customers keeps rising every day, according to the manager.

The most expensive dish on their menu is a mixed grill, which costs 350 Br. Since 2015, the manager of Allebnany claims that the number of customers going to the restaurant has declined due to the recurring political instability in the country.

“Our business is highly affected when conflicts arise in different parts of the country,” said Issac.

Around 1:30pm on November 6, 2019, Bait Al-Mandi, another local restaurant that serves Middle Eastern cuisine, was busy serving customers, primarily Ethiopians.

Bait Al-Mandi is known for its preferred variety of mofo, which is made from butter and sweetened rice cooked over charcoal.

Bait Al-Mandi was established in 2003 in Bole District. Currently, the restaurant has 97 employees. Apart from the services it provides at its restaurant, Bait Al-Mandi provides catering services to different embassies in town.

Tariku Birru, co-owner and general manager of Bait Al-Mandi, and his brother established the business after learning of the increasing demand for such cuisine.

Nassir Kitessa, a supervision expert of hotels and tourism at the City's Culture & Tourism Bureau, says that various reasons triggered the growth of restaurants that serve Middle Eastern countries' cuisines.

The growing Arab population in Ethiopia, due to investments and warming diplomatic relations, are the two major reasons, according to Nassir.

"While serving these ex-pats and locals," says Nassir, "the restaurants contribute to the hotel and tourism industry with investment and take the industry a step ahead through their service."

Since many of the restaurants bring in foreign currency, they have the privilege of importing goods and raw materials duty-free, and they get tax incentives.

Kumneger Teketel, founder and managing director of Ozzie Hospitality & Management Consultancy, one of the companies known for bringing international hotel chains into the country, says that Abebans are also becoming accustomed to Middle Eastern cuisine.

He says that there are many local people who used to work in these countries as domestic workers or owners of import/export businesses.

"People who used to come to Ethiopia from Middle Eastern countries seasonally are also now arriving regularly," he says.

Kumneger also highlights that Middle Eastern restaurants help cultural diversity. However, he warns that there should be caution while adopting other countries' cultures in preserving the local culture and tradition.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 30,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1022]

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