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Italian food is not new to Ethiopia; a legacy of the Occupation, the oldest restaurant in Addis opened in 1948. Located in the Piazza district, its doors are still open today and celebrities such as Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and US Presidents have eaten there.
Residents these days have a higher level of disposable income and as a consequence eating out has become more accessible to a wider population, therefore there is much competition for business. Seeking to rise to the top of the popularity stakes, some restaurant owners have marketed their own unique selling point (USP) to bring in business; cue the Makush Gallery on Bole Road.
Tesfaye Hiwet established Makush Gallery some sixteen years ago in collaboration with an Italian chef, who was also a family friend. At the time, restaurants for foreigners were few and far between in the city, and this venture provided somewhere for them to eat as well as an opening for local artists to display and sell their work. Over the years, the business has become very successful. They now manage over 70 artists, many of them from the Ale School of Art and Design as well as those who are self-taught.
Makush’s work with charities and NGOs has taken Ethiopian artists all over the world. Closer to home, the Restaurant is defined by the good quality and sheer variety of food on its menu. Walking into the Restaurant at lunchtime, the place is buzzing with activity. Waiters are seen dashing around delivering steaming plates of food, people laughing and chatting—clearly enjoying their experience and surroundings amongst the vibrant art work displayed on the walls.
They have fostered good relations with various tour companies since the inception and their clientele ranges from tourists, local workers, companies booking working lunches, ex-pats and officials, many of whom visit time and time again. One such patron is David Mulchi Panico, Ethiopia’s Honorary Consul to the Kingdom of Spain, who has dined here regularly during his visits to Ethiopia over the last seven years. Tucking into a delicious-looking appetizer he explains that as well as being interested in the art and artists (he was involved in facilitating an exhibition in Madrid), he continues to return because of the excellent menu, the homemade pasta and wonderful service.
It is true to say though that a meal at the Makush Gallery is likely to be above many city-dwellers’ budget; three courses plus drinks would cost at least 400 Birr. A more affordable option could be Pastag, a brand new Italian Restaurant in the Haya Hulet area near the Addis Hiwot Hospital.
Asasahegen Asefa is Pastag’s owner and chef, and his USP is the authenticity of his dishes. Trained as a chef in Italy, he was resident there for 13 years before bringing his expertise back to Ethiopia earlier this year. His restaurant has a cozy feel, indeed you would be fortunate to find a table during the lunchtime rush as there is only seating for around 25 people!
There is an open kitchen at the back where hungry workers can watch the food being prepared while they wait. Pastag’s specialty is the lasagna, with three different versions to choose from. Visiting the Restaurant before customers start to arrive, you will find the freshly-made specials sitting on the side ready for the day.
The menu itself is small but perfectly formed. Alongside the lasagna, pasta, and sides there are a selection of salads, of which the Insalata Formaggio (cheese salad) is a firm favorite. This is quite possibly because of the selection of genuine Italian cheese imported directly from Italy, which add authenticity to the taste of the dishes. Catering mainly for local office workers and ex-pats living in the area, a meal at Pastag is very reasonable with a main coming in at 150 Birr, a side between 30-50 Birr and a salad at 105 Birr.