World on a plate: Addis Ababa Hawaii

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Back when I worked at the Associated Press in Tokyo, we all knew the biggest news story out of Japan would be The Big One. Not the death of the World War II emperor, not even the 6.8-magnitude Kobe quake, which killed more than 6,400 people in 1995. Because of Tokyo’s cyclical history of massive tremors, including the 7.9-magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake that killed 140,000 in 1923, we braced for the one that would devastate the economic superpower.

I never thought that memory would come back to me Thursday night. And I never imagined the story of The Big One would be written in sheets of black water.

I was at Addis Ababa Hawaii, a new pop-up restaurant that takes over the J2 Asian Fusion space in Kaimuki once a week, and my thoughts were 10,000 miles away in North Africa. Nonstop reader Jay Parasco had arranged for his old UH professor James Spencer to guide us through the food Spencer’s wife, Meron, was re-creating from her native Ethiopia.

The lure of faraway places is irresistible. When I can’t get there, books, movies or in this case, food become substitutes. It’s been forever since cuisine from a new locale has shown up in Hawaii, and while I’ve had Ethiopian food before, I was excited for the chance to be transported there. Thursday was the night my taste buds would take me to Ethiopia.

Spencer’s stories whetted my appetite. He painted images of an ancient land that straddled the trade routes linking India and the Roman Empire. You can taste that history in the dishes Ethiopians eat today, and you can see in the cities, in the centuries-old buildings left by Portuguese and other traders, and further inland, where Christian tradition is so old and real that when Spencer visited monasteries carved into mountainsides, a la Petra in Jordan, the monks brought out 1,500-year-old Bibles still in use and invited him to leaf through the pages.

“It’s a raw place,” Spencer said. “You go into caves and people have made pilgrimages from all over the world to get there and die, so that’s what you see around you. It’s pretty powerful. But even if it feels raw, the country feels safe. It’s a place that once you start learning about, you have to go and visit.”

I want to, now. Here’s a look at the dishes that took me halfway around the world and back in time. And then the reports started trickling in, and the sirens began, and the whole world’s focus shifted.

Addis Ababa Hawaii

Picture 1 of 6

James and Meron Spencer. The couple met in Ethiopia, where she was living in the capital of Addis Ababa, but Meron is originally from Kaffa, the birthplace of ... three guesses ... coffee! And hence the source of its name.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered by a goatherd who became curious about the bean that was making his goats frisky. Today, roasting the beans over a small fire is a tradition in Ethiopia. "When friends come to visit," Meron says, "we roast the coffee and sit and talk and have a good time."

Meron lights incense while the beans are still pale, filling the room with the woody scent of frankincense imported from Ethiopia. Minutes later, when the beans have turned chocolate brown, she carries the pan slowly around the room, letting guests enjoy the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans.

Addis Ababa Hawaii
Thursday nights @ J2 Asian Fusion
3441 Waialae Ave.
808-628-8461
Reservations recommended

17 comments
EurekaGal
EurekaGal

Sigh. At least I can get in the truck and drive, drive, drive to get to the MacArthur Bart Station Turkfontaine writes about. Just six or so hours. :(

streetgrindz
streetgrindz

Hi Mari!! We were there too. Must have missed you. Ethiopian food is one of my husband's most favorite cuisines, especially the Doro Wot.

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

The reply button doesn't work for me, so I have to create a new post. The wine was actually Jay's! We can drink mine next time.

turkfontaine
turkfontaine

this is good to know. i want some.

Oakland has a couple of Ethiopian restaurants. my son introduced me to his favorite when he lived over there. Oaktown also has a wonderful Ethiopian coffee shop near the MacArthur Bart Station. i'll try to remember to take a pic next time i'm there.

it just dawned on me. i love all cuisines that have flat bread.

lihinggirl
lihinggirl

Sounds onolicious! I remember all the yummy foods I ate while in West Africa (Ghana and Togo) for business trips couple years ago. Too bad Hawaii doesn't have any West African restaurants. Not sure how popular they would be?

Melissa808
Melissa808 moderator

I always eat the chicken! But my favorite was the lamb. That was a nice dinner, despite the alarm of the impending tsunami.....

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@streetgrindz my parking gods were not w/ me that night -- i circled 5 times and ended up parking 3 blocks away. mchang pulled up late and found a space right outside. either way, we didn't get in til 8. u going again? i'm planning to ... getting doro wat again.

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@turkfontaine i'm w/ u on the flatbread observation, tho i can only think of a few off top of head: indian, italian, greek, ethiopian...

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@lihinggirl what kinds of dishes did u have in ghana and togo? stews, nuts, etc? v curious now. ethiopia, s africa, ghana are all so vastly different, i'm curious now.

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@Melissa808 it was really nice, until it got surreal. nice vibe -- did u notice every table was lingering and hanging out for hours? looking fwd to going again.

p.s. thnx for the wine!

streetgrindz
streetgrindz

@nonstopmari we will probably give it another try. We made reservations for 6p. When we got there the hostess seated our party in the 'original' JJ's location... back room. I felt like we were forgotten about the entire evening. Two members of our party got their plate about 20 mins after we did. Our dessert didn't come w/ chocolate on top only corn. :( About 15 mins after being served our dessert we had to ask for the coffee. We were told it was not ready and was offered JJ's house blend coffee instead. I declined. So, although the main course was fantastic the experience and incomplete offerings left me feeling disappointed. I hope that was a one off experience and look forward to giving them another shot. We have been waiting far too long for Ethiopian food to be available in the islands.

lihinggirl
lihinggirl

@nonstopmari just curious, how much was that meal?

ghana & togo - mostly stews & soups. i love red red and jollof rice (tomato-y rice!). i also ate lots of goat. *drool* i love goat!

if u have time, i have lots of pix from various places (USA and abroad) --> http://lihinggirl.shutterfly.com/. so much more i have to upload!

a few ghanaian dishes -->

yes, red red and plaintains were really ono! http://lihinggirl.shutterfly.com/3341

red snapper and jollof rice -> http://lihinggirl.shutterfly.com/3377

getting hungry thinking of all that food! *tummy grumbles*

in togo, we didn't really eat as much of the local cuisine..we ate german (yum!), chinese, and seafood!

enjoy! =)

streetgrindz
streetgrindz

@nonstopmari @streetgrindz You are right!! It can't be easy working out the kinks of being a pop-up. We'll be back and I know that it will be better. Both JJ's and Addis Ababa have an apparent passion for making the concept work!! Besides I L-O-V-E anjera! :D

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@streetgrindz come to think of it, svc was v slow at the bgng and james ended up taking our order at the end of our convo. not sure if that's why ppl were hanging out so long, but i have heard of other svc issues there. i hope u don't have to go thru that again!

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

@lihinggirl that plantain dish is calling to me... interesting that it looks like plaintain and rice dishes from the caribbean on the other side of the atlantic, where many west africans ended up. i love traveling thru food!

addis ababa has a set menu of 3 courses for $25, tho they're thinking of adding more dishes and making it ala carte.