It’s Tuesday Wanderlust at La Lyonnaise, a cozy French Bistro located around Bole, few meters away from Sheger Building and dozens gather to eat tortilla española and salad. La Lyonnaise hosts these weekly nights serving a distinctive dish from a certain country and immersing customers in that country’s culture for a few hours. Tuesday’s Spain themed night was no different.
La Lyonnaise is commonly known for karaoke nights and it’s classic French menu. It attracts a regular crowd passionate about the diverse entertainment it provides. Abel Hailemariam and his wife Therese Metasebia started the event, Wanderlust, to give people a glimpse into the experience of travelling across the globe via food. So far, the weekly Wanderlust has covered 12 cuisines from countries like Senegal, Thailand, India, Algeria and Ireland. Food lovers that eagerly look to diversify their palates seem to be drawn to the event. Melat, 29, has not skipped Wanderlust at Layonnaise for the past 3 weeks and says she has enjoyed the food immensely. She is happy to learn about foreign cultures through food.
Nevertheless, Wanderlust is not the program devoted to international cuisines in Addis. ViaVia Traveller’s Café has been hosting Street Food Sundays for the past 6 months to gastronomes in Addis. Manager of ViaVia, Lieke Raes, wakes up at 6 AM to prepare the meals herself. Even though it is difficult to find the right ingredients she manages to prepare the meals, which include a vegan option, two side dishes and fruit or salad. Customers enjoy the variety while listening to a carefully selected playlist.
ViaVia Addis is part of an international restaurant chain with 17 branches, established with the aim of creating hotspots for world travelers in select cities. ViaVia is home away from home for many regulars. Events and parties that take place during weekends or on holidays make the spot particularly popular among urbanites. Lieke herself is well traveled and has been managing ViaVia since its establishment, 3 years ago. She says nothing connects people better than food.
The diversification of gourmet food alternatives can be attributed to the growing middle class in Addis Ababa and the multitude of foreign nationals that have made the city their home. The demand for entertainment and eating experiences has increased considerably. With the city undergoing rapid changes and popular landmarks like Sangham Indian Restaurant closing the need for new and exciting eateries has grown. There has been a steady increase in the number of restaurants specializing in specific international cuisine. Many Asian restaurants, especially Chinese ones, cater to both Chinese and a growing number of local patrons. Expensive French and Italian Restaurants, no longer confined to a few handful locations in the city, are now spreading wide while limiting their menu options.
La Lyonnaise’s Wanderlust is not restricted to offering international food options but also comes with a charming MC to host the night. Edom Berhanu energetically engages her audience with fun games like accent contests on Irish night, pronouncing Mandarin phrases on China night, musical chairs, charades and trivia. These events attract a diverse group of people: parents with their children, groups of friends spending a night out together and expats interested in Ethiopian interpretations of their home countries’ foods. Dagmawi, 26, a self-proclaimed gourmet, has been to both these events. He describes both as exciting but has been happier with the more diverse food options at ViaVia. La Lyonnaise, he says, is a great place to enjoy if you come with groups of friends since the fun and competitive games make Wanderlust distinct.
Both Lieke and Therese research each country to select traditional dishes to cook and learn how best to represent the nation. Customers at these food-tasting events are generally excited to taste a new cuisine or familiarize with flavors they’ve had before. Most are scared to try new dishes, especially when it comes to Asian cuisine. This event can be a safe introduction to strange flavors. According to Abel, many have been encouraged to try new restaurants by the exposure. Selam, a 22-year-old software engineer, says she had always been fearful of Asian food but she decided to go to her first Chinese restaurant soon after trying it at ViaVia.
The experience of global gastronomy can be surmised as traveling with your senses. These events allow those eager to see the world through a small window into others’ lives. Abel says some Ethiopians have a closed outlook towards other countries. As a landlocked and historically insular country, globalized experiences can be perceived with suspicion and mistrust in Ethiopia, he says. Traveling the world is said to expand one’s worldview and food is an accessible and easy way to do that. Abel wants to further promote cultures around the world through Wanderlust.