With the opening of Saba Restaurant in Maitama, Ethiopia is only a plate away writes Chika Oduah
Tucked way inside Maitama Amusement Park, Saba Restaurant – Abuja’s first Ethiopian eatery – sits on a quiet plot of crisp green grass and expansive trees. Named after the Amharic variant of Sheba, the Ethiopian kingdom ruled by legendary monarch Queen Makeda, Saba Restaurant has been luring a stream of expatriates and curious foodies since its launch in July this year.
“Opening day was great and people were so excited,” says co-founder Meseret Assefa, who is originally from Ethiopia but has lived in Nigeria for nine years. Like many Abuja-based Ethiopians, she used to long for an eatery that served traditional Ethiopian dishes like alicha siga wot (slowly braised marinated lamb) and tegabino (marinated split peas).
“The main idea behind the restaurant is to give us something to represent home,” says her colleague Addishiwot Arega. Talks of opening Saba Restaurant had been on for several years until Assefa got the ball rolling. But actualising such a plan was no easy feat as investors outside Nigeria were reluctant to financially commit to a Nigerian-based venture largely due to security concerns. She eventually shared her ideas with Arega and together they assembled a team of ten Abuja-based Ethiopians to raise funds.
They eventually rented a medium-sized building inside Maitama Amusement Park on Ibrahim Babangida Boulevard. It was once a bar, but now the venue has undergone a make-over: ivory-coloured curtains with the iconic yellow, red and green stripes popularly seen on Ethiopian fabric drape over the glass windows in gentle panels. Traces of Ethiopia’s famous coffee perfume the air. Minced beef, lamb, lentils and the staple injera bread are lavishly dished out on shiny silver serving trays for the N3, 200 per person evening buffet.
At Saba, one can eat a decent meal for N2, 500, and appetizers include a serving of three sambusas – a lentil or meat variation of the samosa – for N750. The tibis firfir, a dish with meat sautéed with onion, garlic and spices and the Saba special which combines vegetarian delights with meat are best sellers. “Nigerians and Ethiopians both like meat!” Arega says with a laugh.
Everything is prepared under the guidance of 29-year-old master chef Tewdros Girma who was flown in from Ethiopia, and the freshness of the ingredients ensures that visitors experience authentic Ethiopian treats.
“It’s all traditional,” Assefa says confidently. But she admits that some Ethiopian dishes are not on the restaurant’s menu, which is one of the challenges of operating outside a native country. Another is the importation of food items; Arega says importing 60 kilograms of injera bread – about 300 pieces – costs roughly N40, 000 to clear.
Despite these logistics, Saba Restaurant has already garnered much attention and praise. Chitra Nagarajan enjoys the yestom beyaynetu. She saw a flyer advertising the grand opening and decided to check it out. “I think it’s really exciting that there’s an Ethiopian restaurant in Abuja,” Nagarajan says. “I enjoyed everything I ate.”
The restaurant also features a full coffee ceremony complete with burning incense, a small charcoal stove and popcorn. But whether it’s the coffee, the meat and vegetarian platters or handful of Nigerian dishes on offer, Saba may have something for everyone, with a dash of culture on the side.
“For our Ethiopian customers we want them to feel like they are back at home,” Arega says. “For our Nigerian customers and everyone else, we want them to know about Ethiopian culture and try something new.”
Saba Restaurant is open 7 days a week from 9am to 11pm.
More Pictures below:
Cooking a meal Ethiopian style
A satisfied diner at Saba Restaurant, Maitama
A look at the menu
Master Chef Tewdros Girma at work
Some of the staff of Saba Restaurant in Maitama