Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Eating in Addis

Practical Travel Info: Food in Addis

There is a lot of delicious food in Addis.  The restaurants are mostly inexpensive by western standards and we did not ever get seriously sick (we had travelers diarreah for the first couple weeks but I don’t think that was directly food related and then were totally fine with a few small exceptions noted below).   The three of us usually ate for 160-240 Birr ($10-$15 US) per lunch or dinner—including drinks, tax, and tip.  There is not a difference in lunch and dinner prices in Addis.  Bills usually include a 15% VAT tax and a 5-15% service charge.  Check the menu see if those are included in the price or if they are tacked on at the end as it can be a nasty surpriseJ.  It is nice to leave a small additional tip, but not mandatory.  We usually left between 10 and 20 birr tip (around 10%).  Diners in Addis like to linger, so be sure to ask for your bill when they clear your dishes if you don’t want to spend another hour sitting at the table. Many restaurants have high chairs, but B usually sat on our laps or in his own chair.  The “green peppers” typically used in Ethiopian cooking are more like jalapenos, so don’t expect American bell peppers. 

As far as our reviews of restaurants, it’s probably important to know that I am a long-time vegetarian who now also eats fish, Ababa loves meat, and B has a fairly severe egg allergy.

Water-We bought water in 5 liter jugs from Ethio Super Market right down the street from the Weygoss.  Prices fluctuated between 16 and 19.50 birr per jug. That was consistently the best deal we found on water and was definitely the most convenient.

Food Shopping-We went to Shoa Supermarket which caters to westerners and has clean produce (walkable distance from the Weygoss).  Shoa has amazing cinnamon rolls (though they don’t ave them often).  Also, they have good french butter.  The Ethiopian butter we found had a not so pleasant grassy/sheepy taste and smell…We also shopped at Ethio and at New York New York market (right up the street from the Weygoss).  Produce at the big Coke bottle by the Bethsaida Higher Clinic (walking distance, just past NY NY market) was also supposed to be good and bananas were 9 birr a bunch.  Dry pasta was usually around 22 Birr per pack, Ramen was about 8 Birr per pack, teddy graham-type snacks were 24 Birr per bag, candy bars were about 12 Birr, and juice was about 35 Birr. Our friends also shopped at Bambis (which unexpectedly closed while we were there) and Savemore which are further away (you would need to take a cab).

Restaurants-Ice Blue and Makush deliver to the Weygoss.  Of the two we strongly preferred Makush, but it was way overpriced for mediocre food. Our go-to restaurants were Ricos (Italian and traditional food, right up the street from the Weygoss) and Sangam (Indian, right down the street from the Weygoss).

Ice Blue-Our favorite dishes were their traditional dishes we had gomen besiga (spinach and meat), shiro (spiced vegetarian pea puree), assa wat (fish stew), and tibs wat (meat stew) and liked them all though they were quite greasy/oily.  The wats are very spicy though!  Of their other dishes, they have an extensive menu of western dishes and everything we ordered off of it ranged from edible (pasta capagnola and chicken stir fry) to absolutely revolting and the worst thing we ever ate (lasagna).  The penne alfredo tastes ok if you don’t think at all about alfredo—it is mushy penne with canned peas and a clumpy oily oniony sauce.  By about week 2 we decided to only order traditional food, pasta capagnola, chicken stir fry, and fruit juices from Ice Blue.  We know people who also really like their fresh fruit salad. DO NOT GET THEIR LASAGNA!  It tastes like burnt cigarettes, herbs, and moldy cheese. 

Makush-The food at Makush is decent Italian food and all orders come with these really yummy thimble-sized rolls.  I had the spaghetti with cream and mushrooms the first time we ordered from there and it was delish—creamy, garlicky, fresh mushroomy, yummy.  Every other time it was a severe disappointment--bland, no garlic, weird tang. canned mushrooms, etc.   The fish is so over cooked it’s pretty hard, but the steak with mustard sauce (I think it’s called Kandisinsky on the menu) is yummy.  Ababa’s stomach felt kind of iffy after his Gallery Burger (he said the flavor was good, but lots of mayo and it had a bunch of random veggies on it—carrots, cabbage, etc), but he didn’t get sick.  Our standard dinner order for the three of us was 1 pasta, steak, or fish dish, 1 order of meat sambusas, 1 mixed salad no olives, and 1 vegetable soup (this tasted slightly different every time but was always good except for one night when the soup was clearly spoiled!).  The salad was delish.  I ate it many times and never got sick.  Avoid the veggie spring rolls, they do not taste good.  The lasagna is okay but greasy.  They have a dessert menu and their chocolate mousse is pretty good—that’s the only dessert item we triedJ

Ricos-We found Ricos our 3rd or 4th week in Addis and it literally changed our lives.  They don’t deliver, but they do take-away, it is very close to the Weygoss, the prices are good, the portions are huge, and the food is great.  We always had take-away after a meal at Ricos to give to someone on the street (with some birr stuck in the bag—it’s the easiest way to give money to beggars without getting mobbed!).  We tried every fish dish on the menu, they are all great, our fave is the cajun fish with mashed potato instead of fries.  Ababa loved the Mendi (roasted lamb, saffron rice dotted with French fries and veggies, meat chili, and chapatti).  B and I usually got a fish dish (our fave was Cajun fish) or the Veggie Fiesta Pizza to share, with orange juice to drink.  Ricos has by far the best pizza in Addis. HANDS DOWN, NO COMPETITION. Sometimes it needs a little salt or a dash of their awesome green chili sauce, but the cheese is good and not funky, the crust isn’t like cardboard, the sauce is yummy, and there’s often garlic and fresh oregano.  Dishes are made slightly differently each day (e.g. sometimes the veggie pizza has cabbage, carrots, and zucchini and sometimes mushrooms, garlic, fresh oregano, zucchini, onions, and peppers), but it always tastes goodJ The staff are awesome and would remember what we liked from the previous visit and bring a small cup and extra straw for B to share my juice, green chili sauce for me, a small plate for B, etc.  We ate at Ricos at least once almost everyday and during the almost 4 weeks when I was really sick with a horrible sinus infection, we sometimes had lunch AND dinner there! We ate green salad, caprese salad, and fruit salad at Ricos and did not get sick.  The veggie salads are cabbage-based, rather than lettuce and I did not care for the optional red sauce on the fruit salad, but the fruit was good. Their mashed potatos are delish and you can also get a side of veggies (usually cabbage, carrots, and zuchinni) with a dish for like 5 birr. They start each meal with a complementary cup of bland creamy veggie soup and bread (white and whole wheat).  On the weekends they skip soup and have a salad bar. We never ate the salad bar though.  We could get 1 pizza to feed all three of us for about 50 birr plus tax on days when our budget felt tight.  FYI-The kids pizza is no smaller than the regular pizza, it just has a thinner crust—great for days when you aren’t so hungry and still definitely enough for 1 adult and 1 child, or maybe even 2 adults. WE LOVE RICOS!

Sangam-If Ricos was our standby starting the 3rd or 4th week, Sangam got us through the first few weeks! It is REALLY delicious Indian food and a very short walk from the Weygoss.  The atmosphere is nice, the waitstaff are kind and helpful, and I can’t stress enough how yummy their Indian food is!  Everything we tried was good, though the curries and other dishes could get pretty spicy.  Especially look out for the dark red peppers in the eggplant dish on the vegetarian thali, they are really really hot and are hard to see b/c they look like eggplant skin at first glance. Our standard order was veggie samosas, raita, yellow dal, plain rice, plain nann, and a dish for Ababa (his faves were Chicken Tikka, Lamb Saagwala, Fish Tikka, or Butter Chicken). Or we’d get a Thali with a separate dish for Ababa. The chairs are also a little higher than most, so B could easily sit on a chair and eat rather than on one of our laps.  The first few weeks I may or may not have said that as long as we could eat at Sangam I would make it through our stay in AddisJ  We ate raita which had fresh veggies and yogurt and never got sick.  I couldn’t finish my plain sweet lassi the one time I got it though b/c it tasted really tangy—not like greek yogurt, more like liquid feta cheeseL

New York New York-Just up the street past Ricos, New York New York is a large restaurant and there is a small supermarket and other business in the complex as well as a hotel under construction.  Ababa loved their Beef Shwarma and their Shiro is delicious (ask for it without egg though as they serve it with a hard boiled egg).  B and I liked the juices, especially the avocado juice, and were ok with some of the vegetable rice dishes as well as the grilled fish with rice and veggies, but the food’s not that great, it’s more expensive than Ricos, the pizza is the worst we tried in AddisL, the service is very slow, and it gets very loud, crowed, and night clubby.  Unless you are craving Shwarma or Shiro, just go to RicosJ 

Cloud 9-We ate here our first night in Addis.  Ababa liked his roast chicken, but my ravioli were so salty they were inedible. They have a dance floor/night club thing going on in the evenings.

Africa Queens-This is up the road a little from the Weygoss.  It’s a German/Swiss restaurant.  We only ate here once.  The ambiance was nice, food was yummy but not quite what we expected. We liked it, but never went back.  It was a little too far, a little to expensive, and a little not nearly as good as RicosJ Closed Sundays.

Zebra Grill-This is in the Debesta building up the road from the Weygoss.  We went here once and had jerk fish with masala chips and jerk  beef with rice and a lentil samosa.  The food was okay but not great (though some of the other food smelled delicious!).  The restaurant is nice though b/c it has gorgeous big fish tanks with tropical fish and offers amazing views of Addis.  B loved it and yelled “fish” for most of dinner.

Kaldis Coffee-Many families live here during their time in ET.  Since neither of us really like coffee and we don’t go to Starbucks much in the US, we were not those people. It’s very walkable, but a bit of a trek with a 2 year old from the Weygoss.  We ate here a few times.  The vegetable sambusas, avocado juice, and strawberry juice were yummy.  Ababa felt a little iffy after his chicken sandwich (which had hard boiled eggs AND mayo on it) but he didn’t get sick.

Metro Pizza-Up even further than Kaldi’s, we went to Metro Pizza twice b/c some friends thought it was the best pizza in town.  Not so much.  It’s better than Ice Blue, NY NY, or even Makush, but no where near as good as Ricos, plus it’s a pretty far walk from the Weygoss—I think about a mile.  The pasta dish we got was good but had a hint of cinnamon in the tomato sauce and the noodles seemed like Ramen.***a note about Pizza in Addis.  Many places have interesting views on “American pizza” and when combined with fasting from meat on many days by religious people in Ethiopia and the prevalence of tuna on menus, you can get some pretty weird combinations like “American pizza” having tuna, capers, raisins, zucchini, and olives!***

Shisu-Hands down the best food we had in Addis (though Ricos and Sangam were vying for a close second).  Sishu is currently located near the big Ethiopian National Bank and the National Theater which is an easy trek from the Weygoss via two mini buses or a cab, or a very long but do-able walk for adults.  Shisu serves a delicious but limited menu of burgers, fries, and other American-style food, as well as brunch on Sundays.  The food here is not “Great for Addis” it is great for anywhere!  The bacon cheeseburger is in Ababa’s top five of all-time and their incredible hot chocolate (made with milk, cream, cocoa, homemade vanilla extract, cinnamon, and citrus zest is the best I’ve had in my life! We tried to go to Shisu once a week after our friends introduced us to it around week 3.  We ate salads here no problem.  B LOVED the tuna salad “American style” and I tried a different vegetarian sandwich each visit and loved them all!  In the basement is a great children’s play area with hammock, swings, a giant papermache castle and boats, etc. B was scared of it all, but other kids LOVED it.  Closed Mondays., but on other days open until 8 pm

Island Breeze-This is in the Piazza area across from the old post office.  It’s very American style food-onion rings, pizza, burgers, potato skins.  The food is yummy, the salsa is AWESOME, and it’s safe to eat the raw veggies.  I loved the salsa and the taco salad made with fish instead of beef.  Ababa loved the food here, but he and B both did get some tummy issues after eating the chicken wings. We only went twice b/c we needed to take a cab to get there and the food was nowhere near as good as Sishus.

Aladdin-The most expensive meal we ate in Addis!  Aladdin is a middle eastern restaurant in the friendship area (turn down the road with the sign for the Japanese embassy and it is on your left).  It’s pretty and the food was delish (I recommend the falafel and tabuli, YUM!!!) but it was crazy expensive compared to the other restaurants we went to (our meal was over 400 birr) and it was a very long walk (we took a mini bus down Bole) so we only went once.  But the falafel and tabuli were really amazing!

Lime Tree-We went to Limetree twice and weren’t big fans.  It’s the big expat hang out.  We thought the prices were very high, the food not that good, and it’s the only place I got sick after eating salad.  The lime and ginger iced tea and hummus were delicious though!!!

China Bar-YUK!  It’s in Meskel square and was the second most expensive meal we had.  The décor is very 1950s “Chinese” and they have chop suey on the menu.  The egg rolls and fried rice were weird but edible. The devil’s soup is nasty and the rest of our meal wasn’t great.  The people next to us got something on a sizzling iron skillet that smelled really good, but we had no desire to ever go back.

Lucy Café-Located next door to the National Museum, Lucy Café has cuisine that is very similar (but not as good) as our beloved RicosJ  My pineapple juice was fermented so I didn’t drink it.  It’s convenient if you are at the museum, but otherwise, the prices are about 20-30 birr per dish higher than Ricos and the food is definitely not as flavorful.

Traditional restaurant with dancing- we planned to go to Habesha 2000, Faskika, and Yod Abysinnia, but we never got there...

La Parisienne-Located on Meskel Flower Road just before Demble City Center.  Delicious breakfast.  Buttery brioche and croissants and awesome French toast.  We didn’t get around to visiting here until week 8, but would have gone much more frequently if we’d started earlier!  We got fasting brioche or fasting croissant for B (no egg in them) and then I loved their cheese croissants (savory like a mild grilled cheese sandwich).  Their juices and teas are good.  Hot chocolate is just ok.

Castelli’s-supposed to be the best restaurant in Addis.  We never got there though...

Hilton-We visited the Hilton for a friend’s birthday party and liked the fish kebabs with rice and veggies off the kids menu.  It was yummy and not super expensive (I think 50 birr).

Smoothie Delight (near Shoa Supermarket, on opposite side of street)-YUM!  Fresh fruit smoothies and ice cream.  Our friends loved the ice cream, but we stuck to the all fruit smoothies (you can have them made with milk or OJ).  Delicious and we didn’t get sick.  Our friends ate there almost every dayJ

If you are only in Addis for a week for court or Embassy, we strongly recommend Ricos, Sangam, and Shisu, as well as Makush or traditional food from Ice Blue if you need delivery. (edited to add: I think I got sick from Ice Blue traditional Shiro on our last night in ET).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Housing in Addis

Practical Travel Info: Housing in Addis

We stayed at the Weygoss Guest House for our 12+ week stay in Addis.  We picked the Weygoss due to it’s:

·      Convenient location (right off of a safe area of Bole Road, within walking distance of many restaurants—two of which deliver to the guest house, minibus routes, cab stands, and shopping buildings). This was far and away the best selling point for the Weygoss and the biggest reason we stayed there.  I cannot stress how much of a difference this makes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
·      Large room options (We originally had a Master Suite--2 rooms, 2 baths, and a private kitchen, but realized our first night that we only needed the Jr. Suite--large room with private bath in the hall and shared access to the kitchen with one other room.  The Master Suite is great if you are bringing older kids with you too).
·      Clean—we had no issues with bed bugs, fleas, or other non-mosquito bugs—even when a group of travelers who had fleas from their previous adventures moved into our floor (some other guests did get a couple bites, but we didn’t).
·      Competitive prices—the published prices are quite high, but we negotiated a rate that was significantly lower.
·      Recommendation of two other families who had stayed for 7 and 12 weeks respectively.
·      Outdoor space—common brick paved courtyard, common roofdeck, common lobby, hallways that could be played in when necessary, and a small private balcony off our room.  Especially during rainy season, we wanted outdoor options that would not be super muddy (e.g. paved courtyard was more attractive to us than a garden during this season)
·      Quiet and Safe-Typically, the Weygoss was very quite, felt extremely safe, and and was warm and welcoming
·      The other guests—we met some amazing people who were adopting, traveling, doing humanitarian work, or just visiting Addis. Most guests were adoptive families from Canada and some from the US.

Overall we enjoyed our stay, but there were several things we didn’t like so much.  Some of it is just life in Addis and some is unique to the WeygossJ

·      The staff was very friendly and helpful but in Ethiopian culture it is perfectly acceptable for strangers to walk up to you, take your child and hug them, walk with them, effusively kiss them, etc.  When someone feels they know your child (has seen them on several occasions) this is even more pronounced.  It is a warm and loving gesture, but for adopted kids who are processing their new family and for families who are trying to begin the bonding process with their child, it is not so beneficial.  Many of the Weygoss staff were very enthusiastic in their attempts to hug, hold, kiss, and interact with our child.  As a guesthouse that caters to adoptive families, it would be great to see staff have a better understanding of and sensitivity towards these issues.
o   Two particular staff we had strong reactions to were an aggressive cleaning lady who would literally take B out of our arms, try to shoo us away, turn him from us, and tell him he was hers/going home with her/did he want to go turn on the lights (one of his favorite activities…etc).  We spent much time trying to figure out how to avoid her as she completely ignored our protestations and attempts to firmly keep B in our arms. By contrast, Sintohta, the man who operates the gate to the courtyard during the day was amazing.  He was attentive to our son, but would gently redirect him to us, tell him we were his parents in Amharic, and do subtle things like if we were all “playing soccer” (as much as a 2 year old plays soccerJ) if he thought B was kicking the ball to him too much or not checking-in with us he’d kick the ball to B and say “kick to mama” or “kick to daddy”.  He was amazing and helped us a lot the first few weeks when B had some daddy confusion.
·      Weygoss includes complimentary breakfast—pancakes (which are thin crepes served with honey or syrup depending on what they have), scrambled eggs (which have peppers, onion, and tomato), and omelet (which was the same as scrambled eggs, but almost deep fried), or oatmeal.  They also had bread, jam, coffee, tea with cinnamon, and hot water available as part of breakfast.  At the end of the first week we realized B had a pretty serious allergy to eggs so we fed him plain oatmeal in our room.  We couldn’t eat plain scrambled eggs as he would develop a rash if just the oils touched him but we could eat pancakes if we washed our hands and mouths afterwards.  On average, the Weygoss did not have pancake batter at least 3 days per week so the complimentary breakfast wasn’t as valuable to our family as it could have been.
·      Internet-The Weygoss charges 30 birr per hour for wireless internet and 75 cents Birr for using their computer for internet.  The internet is very slow, went out frequently, and was entirely unavailable for over 2 weeks during our stay.  We ended up borrowing a mobile hotspot (EVDO stick) from a family who was leaving and our internet experience was MUCH better.  I would HIGHLY recommend buying a hotspot if you will be in ET longer than a month.  You can buy them in ET for about $150 US and then have to pay a monthly fee and load Birr onto it to use, but it is so worth it.  The two weeks that we had no internet access were very difficult and we almost missed some important correspondence from our agency.
·      Kitchen-The “fully equipped private kitchen” the Weygoss advertised is actually a sink, a dorm-sized fridge, and a hotplate that rests on the floor (our hotplate would give us a mild electrical shock each time we used it).  We also had 2 mugs, 2 cups, 2 forks/knifes/spoons, one thin pot that was basically made of aluminum foil, and one small metal tea kettle.  When we saw the kitchen, the price of groceries at the stores that cater to Westerners, and how affordable restaurants were, we ate out for almost all our lunches and dinners. If you plan to cook, bring a good multi-purpose pot and perhaps a few cooking utensils and a good knife.  These can be purchased in Addis but the quality is low and the price is about the same as Western prices, or higher.
·      Bathroom-Our bathroom was in the hall not en suite (which we knew, the smaller second room that we gave up had an en suite and most of the rooms here are en suite). Hot water was great and pretty reliable and the water pressure was awesome for Ethiopia, but the bathroom had a lot of mold and was quite dark so it felt kind of yucky.
·      Open Air Concept-The Weygoss is built around a central staircase that is open to the outdoors at the bottom.  During most of the year this provides breezes and ventilation (there is no heating or AC in most buildings in Addis, including the Weygoss). The only issue is that stray cats sometimes wander in at night and mate, fight, and dig through trash.  Not ideal, especially when your bathroom is not en suite!  This was only an issue the nights we stayed up, mostly we went to bed at 7:30 with B and slept through it all.
·      Rain-We were there during rainy season, but during the drought so the rainy season was much less severe than usual.  Our windows leaked significantly, so most mornings we would wake up with a 6 inch wide stream of water running from the corner of the window to under the bed. The Weygoss is trying to fix this.
·      The other guests—we had one group of particularly annoying travelers, an expedition from Canada Humanitarian who was rude, loud at all hours of the night, used our kitchen (including to wash their flea infested clothes), “borrowed” dishes from our and others’ kitchens, and were in general unpleasant.  Also, there were some kind of sketchy “business” travelers from various parts of Africa and the Middle East who seemed to enjoy the services of prostitutes on several occasions, monopolized the front desk staff, and continually tuned all of the TV satellites to all-Arab channels. In general though, the other guests were really nice and we met some amazing friends.
·      Cab from airport-Arrange your own.  The cab the Weygoss arranged for us cost an exorbitant amount ($10 US for a very short ride) and then the cab driver demanded an extra $5 for our luggage AND he let the unscrupulous airport porters load our luggage and told us we had to pay them too.  We had been traveling for 24 hours were jet lagged beyond belief, it was 11pm in Addis and very dark, and he was very pushy.  We didn’t feel very safe, so we paid.  All told, the ride cost us over $20 US. The Weygoss should protect their guests better than this if they are arranging the ride from the airport. (More on this in the transportation postJ)
·      Maintenance-They Weygoss did “maintenance” for about 3 weeks when we were there.  It was actually quite large and loud construction projects, namely knocking holes in all room’s ceilings, replastering, and then installing decorative molding.  It was loud, dusty, and not so pleasant for the few guests who were there during that time.

Despite this seemingly long list of issuesJ we did enjoy our stay at the Weygoss, would definitely consider staying there again, and would recommend it.  If you have bigger kids, the 4th floor rooms actually connect and the roof deck is right outside your room, but the bathroom only has a shower, no bathtub.  The mastersuites on the second floor have a partial wood door that actually separates the entire suite from the hallway so that you have more privacy.   The location of the Weygoss is great and I cannot emphasize enough how much money and aggravation you save being able to walk almost everywhere you want to go!!!  The owners are open to suggestions, and were also willing to negotiate the rate a little lower midway through my stay due to the issues I mentioned above. Stay tuned for more details on our favorite restaurants, many of which are walkable from the WeygossJ

Weygoss Bathroom (the best one IMO-ours was a lot worse)

Weygoss Kitchen-All utensils, tubs, and kettle provided by tenants, there's also a dorm sized fridge

Practical Travel Info

Blog Post Series: Practical Travel Info

I will try to post weekly travel posts from during our time in Addis, but I know when we were planning our trip one of the best resources for travel info was other families’ blogs, so I am going to start with a series of posts on practical travel info. I imagine these would also be helpful for adoptive families in other countries and who travel during different times of the year, but please note we were in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and we traveled from the end of June until the end of September 2011 to adopt our now almost 3 year old son B.

A very helpful guide we took with us was the Addis International School’s Guide for New Teachers HERE; however, as we learned, some of the items in here were not quite correct, like the International Evangelical Church Service times are only 9:30 and 11:15 (took 3 weeks of being late to church to figure that out:-).  I’ll try to note big differences in my descriptions.

This little series will include:

Maybe someday I'll get around to entering and linking these:-)

Medical Care-in an emergency, the Swedish Clinic and Korean Hospital are great
Packing List
Shopping (practical and souvenirs)
Things to Do
Day Trips

Sunday, September 25, 2011


I am beyond happy to type this post title:-)

We were in Ethiopia for three very long months.  The last month was just me and B as Ababa had to come home to start class (though he got stuck in Germany for 3 days due to Hurricane Irene).

I go back to work next week :-( but in the meantime I'll try to post a series of posts on our travel experience (I may or may not have drafted these during some of the most boring weeks in ET and they may or may not be approaching 30 pages of info at this point so there may be multiple posts per day for a while). Hopefully they'll be helpful for other families who are traveling and for our friends and family if they want to learn more about our experience there and practical things like what we packed and where we ate.

We learned an incredible amount about Ethiopia, its culture and peoples, but we also learned ALOT about adoption, agencies, and governments during our time in ET. We'll try to share this on the blog too.

Most importantly, we officially and legally in Ethiopia and the U.S., became parents to an incredible little boy!  (We'll post some about the bonding process too this week).

We're still getting over jetlag, but for now I'll leave you with this picture of the most adorable little boy on earth:-)