Jenn Louis, the Best New Chef alum behind Ray in Portland, Oregon, shares her favorite spots in to eat, shop and stay in Ethiopia.
When your tahini supplier invites you to its sesame fields in Humera, Ethiopia, you say yes. And you bring your best chef friends along for the ride.
That’s exactly what Best New Chef alum Jenn Louis of Ray in Portland, Oregon, did when cult favorite Soom Foods made the offer. Former Annisa chef Anita Lo and sous-chef Mary Attea joined Louis on the once-in-a-lifetime journey.
“I had no idea that I would share coffee on the Ethiopian/Eritrean border and eat sesame from the pods as they’re harvested by hand at sunset,” says Louis. “What a magical country filled with loving people, intensely striking views and ancient history.”
Here’s are the places that captivated these chefs.
“In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s largest and capital city, there’s this brightly colored, family-run bed-and-breakfast. The government forbids any international chains, so all the businesses are Ethiopian. They're extremely accommodating, and they serve a delicious breakfast every morning and offer transportation as needed.”
“The Turkish community in Addis has several great restaurants, and this one is a solid example. The lamb lachmujan and mezze platter with pita are my go-to orders. Heads up: No alcohol is served at this restaurant.”
“This is the spice and food market of the city. You can also find housewares stalls, where they sell new items along with repurposed ones like flour sifters made with old metal cans. There’s a great selection of spices and chiles for berbere, the country’s signature spice blend. If you can find a millhouse open, gather the ingredients and see if you can get someone to grind them into a fresh batch for you.”
Yilma Siga Bet
“Considered the best butcher house in the city, Yilma slices beef from hanging carcasses to order. I love tibs, fried beef, with the usual condiments: awaze (berbere sauce), mitmita (dried chile powder) and mustard sauce. Don’t miss the roasted bone with bits of meat to gnaw on.”
“This brewery is just 30 minutes outside of Gonder’s center. It’s a lovely garden setting with beers and snacks. You can pair the amber ale with a small menu of chicken and rice or tibs. The way you order your beer is interesting: either by the pint or soccer ball yard. A yard of beer is about 8-10 pints filled in a tube and dispensed through a large plastic soccer ball with a tap on its side. Once a few pints are filled, the server places a tube filled with ice to keep the beverage cold without watering it down. It’s brilliant.”
“This market is separated into the usual sections, including produce, spices, textiles and traditional clothing and housewares. Along the streets, you’ll find mechanized oil presses making a blend from flax seeds, peanuts and sesame.”
“Located just a short walk outside the city of Gonder, this hotel has balconies with great views of the city. Each morning, you can enjoy a mostly Ethiopian breakfast.”
Bella Sudanese Restaurant
“Northwest Ethiopia is bordered by Eritrea and Sudan, and Humera’s food culture is influenced by these neighbors. I had a delightful breakfast at this spot, where ful was offered as ‘fasting,’ meaning vegan, or regular, with egg and yogurt. Falafel-like chickpea fritters come with the vegan option, or you can order them on the side. Make sure to finish the meal with a glass of tea.”
“Several fresh goat carcasses hang in the entry of this restaurant. Ethiopia’s iconic dishes are served here, and my favorites were the chewy goat ‘nuggets,’ dried goat on top of a fiery clay pot and ‘special tibs.’ You can opt for covered seating in the wooden structure, but there’s a pretty garden outside with some seats as well.”
Humera Shopping Market
“This market has a little bit of everything: housewares, produce, spices and clothing. Look for local sesame oil and honey specific to the area, and be sure to ask about the camel-operated oil press in the yard of a local family. Similar to traditional mescal production in Oaxaca where a horse walks in circle to crush smoldering agave, here a camel walks in circles to crush sesame seeds. The oil is then separated and the pressed seed cakes are sold as animal feed.”
“This Humera hotel is as good as it gets. Rooms are basic with three important luxuries: a small refrigerator, a netted canopy to protect against mosquitoes and, importantly, air conditioning! Overall in Ethiopia, Wi-Fi can be inconsistent, if not rare, so get ready to unplug.”