Being a travel buff, the
minute I come upon a country I am not quite familiar with, I instantly start
reading up on it. This is exactly what I did when I heard of Abyssinian, the
new Ethiopian restaurant that had opened doors in the city. Incidentally, Ethiopia
was once called Abyssinia and that is how the restaurant earned its name
as well.
Situated in the same
building as two other restaurants- Meena Tai [Maharashtrian restaurant] and
Batlivala & Khanabhoy[the Parsi restaurant], this is the 3rd
restaurant from the brother’s duo Uday Balaji and Vikram Mohan of VM
Hospitality.   While chatting with Uday, I came to know they
have a test kitchen in Coimbatore where all recipes are tried out. Infact, they
set up a farm to grow the Ethiopian grain, Teff but are also exploring other
venues to make this happen. When I enquired about how easy or difficult the
journey of establishing the restaurant has been, Uday shared the issues they
face in bringing in the ingredients, the hassles with customs and other such
concerns, which is why it took as long as it did for the restaurant to launch.
Since India and Ethiopia
have strong connections from the past, especially with reference to Spices, it
comes as no surprise that the cuisines are quite similar as well. The first
thing you notice when you step into
Abyssinian is the space, there are just four
tables, but it adds to the charm. The walls are adorned with traditional
Ethiopian musical instruments and scripts, not to forget the quirky the light
fittings. The seating is low- chairs and stools and the center table is meant
for the platter.  Their menu is quite
extensive; all dishes are given their original name with a description to help
us understand. They also have a glossary, which helps make sense of what we are
We were there for
lunch and it so happened all 4 of us were vegetarians. The eating style in
Ethiopia is community style and so you eat from a single plate. This was taking
the phrase “a family that eats together stays together” to a whole another
Our meal began with Thej,
the official drink of this land. Made with nothing but honey, sugar and water,
it is allowed to ferment a bit before being served. It was tad pungent but
quite nice, and not too sweet.  Next up
was a plate with Mandasi [resembles our bonda] but with strong ajwain &
garlic flavours and it was served with Abe [coriander green chilli dip].
While we were
busy polishing these off, we were served the sou – ‘Adengare Shorba’ – kidney
beans that had been cooked with onion and tomato. It was light and simple. 
The staple from
this region is Injera- the traditional bread of sorts that is eaten by all.
There is no rice in this region [hallelujah, my kinda place].. Injera is made
with a grain called Teffa [ which the restaurant is trying to source, but until
then Injera is made using Ragi and rice- two variations] . if I were to explain
it to you, it is similar to our dosa except it feels steamed.
The plate
arrived at our table and there were two big pieces of Injera at the bottom and
small rolls of Injera for each of us. And then came the side dishes, I lost
count after 4.. Was happy to note they had quite a range of vegetarian options.
We were served
Dinch Wot-
curried potato simmered with berbere, garlic and spices – this was a big hit,
loved the flavours.
Yedinich Alicha
– a stew of potatoes and carrots with onions,fresh garlic, ginger and turmeric.
It was semi dry and simple in terms of flavours.
Yatakilt Wot- curried
vegetable stew of cauliflower, potatoes, carrot, cabbage, beans with onions and
berebere- loved this one as well. 
Yeduba Wot –
curried pumpkin simmered with red onions, berebere, garlic and spices – Since I
love yellow pumpkin, I enjoyed this one as well.
Indubay Tibs –
mushroom sauteed with onions, chilli peppers, tomato and rosemary. Reminded me
of the sauté I do at home. 
 Fir Fir – pieces of injera tossed with onions,
garlic, berebere paste and Ethiopian Spiced butter- wasn’t a big fan of this,
but it kinda resembles the kothu parotta.- this is typically served at
Shiro – powdered
chickpeas stew flavored with onions, garlic and peppers- it was mushy and runny
like our daal
Azifa – guessing
I got the name right- It was a daal of sorts that had brown lentils that had
been cooked down with spices and was quite delicious.
Apart from the
main dishes, we had three sides that added a nice touch to the side dishes.
Ayib – plain crumbled
cottage cheese that added creaminess to dishes. 
Mitmita  – cottage cheese with quit a hit of heat [with
a local birds eye chilli, cardomon seeds and salt]
Awaze- This was
a sauce made with Berebere and olive oil. It was a hot sauce that you add to
increase the heat factor in any of the dishes
Phew, now those
names are quite the challenge to remember, right?! That is the joy of trying
something new and out of your comfort zone.
We weren’t done
yet, now came the trio of desserts 
Kita- Fried
Ethiopian Flat bread with honey- this was a big dry for my liking.
Nech Azmud cake-
Soft olive oil cakes made with ajwain and served with liberal amounts of honey.
It contains egg [quite strong flavour as well] – one of those desserts that you
eat a few bites and are done.
Sweet Sambussa-
the winner among the desserts- Friend flat bread parcels of sweetened carrots,
dates and nuts served with honey – Loved this one…
And to bring the meal to
the close came the infamous Ethiopian Coffee that was served with a bowl of
salted popcorn. Yep, you read it right. That is how Ethiopians wind up their
meal. The coffee is served black into small cups, and you can either have it as
it is or add some spiced butter and salt to enhance the taste. I tried both and
loved them equally. The butter and salt adds a bit of warmth and cuts the
Oh what a fabulous
afternoon it had been. An experience like no other I can say with confidence. I
had shared a few pictures during the lunch and was amazed to see that a few
friends have tried Ethiopian food across the world and were quite excited we
had one option in Chennai and then there were those who wanted to be taken here
for a treat…
One other thing I must tell
you is they are planning on introducing an afternoon coffee session where you
could be privy to tales about their coffee brewing tradition or just some
history about the place and people. Keep a look out for these events.
We were very impressed with the level of knowledge possessed by Eswar, the staff who took care of us through the meal. it apparently took him 3 months to master the names of dishes but he was phenomenal when it came to answering our questions and explaining the dishes. 

If you were to go for the Messob, which is this community style eating and are a group of 4 vegetarians, it would cost you Rs3399 . The restaurant also has tasting plates, curated with a combination of dishes. 

40, Maharaja
Surya Road, Venus Colony, Alwarpet, Chennai- 18
[Take right at
the end of Kasturi Rangan Road, drive past Tangerine and you will spot this on
the right]

Dial 044 42082809 for

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The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember that restaurants and eat outs sometimes change with time, so does their food and service. So, kindly consider these factors while visiting the places. Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit  🙂
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