Exploring Ethiopian Culture with Abyssinian

Abyssinian, Pune

The Ethiopian Empire is known as Abyssinia. It encompasses the geographical states of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Not just an area but a very deep rooted culture with remarkable layers and One of the lesser explored avenues in India especially when it comes to the Culinary space. Abyssinian, comes from the house of Savya Rasa . First launched in Chennai and then relaunched in Pune, which makes this one of the 2 restaurants serving Ethiopian Cuisine in the country (other brand being in Juhu, Mumbai) #LuckyPunekars

My knowledge of Ethiopia and Ethiopians is limited to textbooks and some kind students I met back in college (perks of studying in Symbiosis). The meeting or interaction, as I would call, was in particular during the International Food Fests held every year. Students from across cultures put their best foot, rather ‘best food’ forward. I remember trying some starters, names of which my poor memory fails to recall. What I do recollect is their ‘familiarity’ and ‘simplicity’. 

Cut to present day, the lunch at Abyssinian was a mixed experience and here’s my share of WHYs and WHY NOTs from the day.

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What Works?

1. The Superlative Experience –

As already mentioned, Abyssinian comes from the house of Savya Rasa. Those who have been there, know what ‘Authenticity’ translates to for these guys. Everything from the artifacts, to the bamboo seating and the Abyssinian flag teleport you to another world. It’s not just a meal but a complete dive into Ethiopian etiquettes and customs. My experience was more like a visit to a museum, full of visuals and banter about Ethiopia. Just that this museum served us food too.

2. The Indigenous Ethiopian Menu –

Their Head Chef is from Ethiopia and gets every detail from her kitchen to our plates. The staff is well informed and will walk you through the process (yes, everyone and not just bloggers) when you find yourself getting uncomfortable with the names on the menu. To be honest, the names are hard to read, write and understand so unless you’ve had some real time in Ethiopia or with the Ethiopians, you WILL need help.

3. The Concept – 

The Menu is broadly – A la Carte dishes and the MESSOB, which is their tasting platter. The Messob is a smart move to give its diners a glimpse of a lot in one go. The Messob platters are Unlimited and not Shareable (understand how our Indian Thalis work, exactly the same). You can choose to have your own individual platter or make it a community one with the others sharing your table. 

The TONA COmmunity Platter

The Messob further has sub categories namely – 

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  Abol – for light eaters. It comprises of chicken and vegetarian combinations.  

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  Tona – you get the veggies, chicken and also lamb. 

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 Baraka- the third course and by all means the most grand, tenderloin being the exciting addition. 

4. That ‘To Kill For’ Cup of Coffee – 

We do know the Coffee from Ethiopia is renowned but what is lesser known is that their coffee ceremony is nothing short of adventurous. It’s not your ‘grab my starbucks on the go’, neither a simple ‘filter kaapi’ culture. Its a very traditonal and time consuming ceremony lasting over an hour. It is a mark of hospitality and respect for the visitors. The Abol, Tona and Baraka are actually 3 rounds of coffee serving that take place. All meals end with coffee, smelling and sipping on it gradually is part of the ritual. They serve dark roasted and unfiltered coffee which is absolute heaven for black coffee lovers. They do serve some butter and sugar on the side for those who cant take the bitterness, but then that does spoil the fun.

5. The Cultural Similarities – 

The names may sound alien, the food looks different but once you down a few bites, something begins to click. The Traditional Dish of Ethiopia – DORO WOT (Doro means Chicken) is a spicy chicken stew. Very bold and robust – my favorite from the Tona Platter we feasted on. The YEBEG BOZENA SHIRO which is a thick chickpea based curry with lamb chunks. One bite and it reminds me of a very pasty and light version of the Haleem we get back home. 

The Community platter is the traditional way of sharing meals in Ethiopia, much like the Bohri Thaal here in India.  “Ek thaali me khane se pyar badhta hai” applies here too. The ‘gursa’ is a very “pehle aap”  tradition to serve the first morsel to the one next to you before you dig into the community platters. I was intrigued to learn that what looks like a dominantly meat eating community also had a long list of vegetarian and VEGAN options. The Christians for a large part of the year abstain from meat and meat products. To simplify, even the Ethiopians have their Navratras and “waars” in place when it comes to ditching meat.

6. Pricing – 

Community platters starting at 799 per person is definitely not a bad deal for an experience of this calibre. 

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 What Does NOT Work? 

1. The Food Lacks Visual Appeal – 

They say food should enchant your other senses – the eyes and the nose before they hit the tongue. Ethiopian food makes for a lavish spread but certainly does not appeal the eye. The Injera bread forms the base of the platter which in itself is a porous, out of shape creation. The curries lack lustre giving a very dull obscure look to the platter.

2. We miss the ‘Rice’ – 

The Injera bread is the staple part of the diet, locally made with fermented teff, substituted with ragi here in India. Ignoring the looks, it makes for a good side with the accompaniments yet, we miss the rice. The culture of eating rice is not widely accepted or practiced in Ethiopia. Certain dishes like the Doro Alicha (turmeric based chicken stew) and Fosolia could level up ounces when paired with rice, or so I think based on my palate. 

3. Lacks repeat factor – 

The learning, the exposure and the experience coupled with affordable pricing mandates a visit to Abyssinian. But, what about subsequent visits?  Given the local palate and the heavy duty competition in Pune’s culinary scenes, we are spoilt for choices. The food scores well owing to few dishes but certainly not an answer to any of my cravings. 

The Mandatory Order List – 

If I happen to take a history addict, or an avid explorer of culture to Abyssinian here’s my go to order list or rather safe bets. 

1. Do not miss the Doro Wut. It’s the most familiar and most delicious of the entire lot.

2. The Su Fit Fit Salad – Fresh veggies tossed with strings of Injera bread, tomatoes and lemon. Very refreshing and makes for a good low carb salad.

3. Mandassi – A deep fried flour dumpling served with a superb coriander and parsley dip called Abi. If you know what ‘gulgulas with chai’ happens to be in Bihar/North East India, then you know the Mandassi stands closest to that, just savory. 

4. Doro Tib which are tender chicken strips tossed with onions and pepper. Very light, very delicious.

5. The Sweet dumplings or Sambosa have a gooey centre with a captivating coating of coffee and honey. My pick over the Ethiopian baklawa anyday.

Disclaimer: This Review is based on a complimentary invite extended by Carpe Diem on behalf of Abyssinian. The opinion expressed in the review is entirely my own and in no manner influenced by any party.

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