What is the capital of Tanzania? Wrong! It’s Dodoma, a quirky country town right at the geographical centre of the country and with a population of 325,000, compared with almost ten times that number in its predecessor as capital. Dar es Salaam lost the title to this country bumpkin in the mid-1970’s after a referendum.
I somehow doubt that the South African government could win such a plebiscite to obtain permission to move our state capital to our geographical centre, Douglas, 107 km west of Kimberley, although, being at the confluence of the Vaal, Orange and Riet rivers, there could be worse suggestions and the Griquas would be delighted. Dodoma, against similar odds, prevailed.
However, capital city or not, Dar, as it is affectionately known, is a strangely beguiling place. Addis, of course, is not in Dar, it is in Ethiopia, but there is, nevertheless, a little and very important bit of Addis Ababa in Dar, down Ursino Street, a bumpy backstreet off Migombani Street to the north of the city.
If you didn’t know, you’d never find it. I was very relieved to have a pre-negotiated 5000-shilling taxi as I was far from convinced that the driver of the traditionally suspension-free Corolla knew the way either. It was R25 well spent. Or maybe he was simply too absorbed by our discussion of the iniquities in the judging of the previous evening’s Miss Tanzania competition and missed the turning a few times.
Addis in Dar is a restaurant and it is, not to beat about the suburban bush, superb. An unimposing entrance to what looks like (and obviously once was) a rather unattractive two-storey house, deceives the visitor into low expectations, as does a lack of reception of any kind. Wandering around downstairs amongst the camel portraits, pans and pipes, we wondered whether we had stumbled on a Bedouin’s town house but, bravely venturing up the stairs, we uncovered why we had been told that we MUST come here. Out on the huge balcony, perched on upholstered stools with comfortably sloping backs, at Ethiopian Messob tables, were the faithful, and the place has quite a following.
Tanzanians are naturally unassuming and respectful people and this has been taken as step further by Senait Mekonnen, owner of Addis, who has imbued the restaurant, in addition, with traditional Ethiopian hospitality. Honey-wine (a bit like mead) was offered and politely declined. A menu appeared, clear and easy to follow for wot-virgins, and we ordered.
Seemingly moments later the conical lid made from colourful woven straw was removed and the basket-table underneath became a huge serving plate of wall-to-wall injera, a huge pancake made from a slightly fermented mix of water and millet-flour, with various dishes perched on it. There was spicy lamb, chicken flavoured with berbere, cracked lentils, spiced pumpkin, spinach and any number of interesting side-dishes. Never mind the Muppets, Swedish chef, this was Everything-in-a-Basket.
You eat with your hands and dip, dunk and dollop your way through the injera, tearing it off and filling it with delicious wot (stews) and sauces and hurtling it towards your mouth before collapse, fall-out or disintegration prevent its arrival.
It takes a bit of practice but don’t all foods taste so much better without the impersonal metal of a fork or spoon? When you get really good, you can progress to gursha, where you wrap a mouthful of something messy in injera and feed it to someone else at the table, following the tradition that those who eat from the same plate will not betray one another.
After the meal comes the tranquillity of the Ethiopian coffee ritual which again emphasises the importance of trust and friendship and brings peace (which is probably essential in the event that gursha has left everybody covered in food).
Addis in Dar is capital. In fact as the name suggests, it is almost doubly capital. It’s the Tanzanian way of doing things, Ujamaa, the community of family and the backbone of Tanzanian society, combined with the Ethiopian way. It’s share and share alike. It’s ubuntu in more attractive packaging, a very refreshing way to add significance to a meal (and to get through napkins and shirt-fronts). What’s more, the food’s delicious. What happier way to prove that an injera to one is an injera to all?
The good news is that Cape Town is to get its own Addis, so next time, we won’t have to drive 8000km for dinner.
Addis in Dar, 35 Ursino St, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. (+255) 0741 266 299. Noon until 10.30 Monday – Saturday. Closed Sunday.
Addis in Cape, 41 Church St Cape Town Tel 021 424 5722. The same ownership.