Authentic is one word that can be used to describe Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant’s food and atmosphere. The spices and cooking methods used in the kitchen are imported from Ethiopia and the owner works diligently to provide her customers with the true “Ethiopian experience.”
Abyssinia is one of Sacramento’s Ethiopian restaurants located on the corner of Hurley Way and Fulton Avenue. In 2022, Abyssinia celebrated its 10th anniversary and also gained a new owner, Hanita Alyu, after the previous owner, Elfinesh Beri, retired.
Hanita Alyu immigrated to the United States with dreams of having her own business. She graduated from Sacramento State with a bachelor’s degree in child development and had been employed at Sacramento County. Alyu’s mother, Nigata Hailemeskel, was working at Abyssinia with the previous owner, Beri, when she announced her plans to retire and was looking for someone to take over.
Hailemeskel told her daughter that this was her opportunity to get into business ownership. “Previously working as a server for Queen Sheba (another Sacramento Ethiopian restaurant), I was aware of the challenges running a restaurant had, but I was ambitious and took the opportunity,” said Alyu.
With the recent trend of ethnic foods, such as birria and fufu, Ethiopian food has been gaining popularity with its diverse options of both vegan and meat dishes. Curtis Lucky, a frequent customer of Abyssinia, describes the restaurant as “a hidden gem.”
“I’ve been to Ethiopia a few times and it’s authentic to the food there,” Lucky says. “I’ve been coming here since the restaurant opened and even when the restaurant changed owners, the food preparation was similar to previous owners, it’s healthy, not overly oily, and delicious.”
Tikil gomen, Abyssinia’s most popular vegan dish, is offered in the veggie combo platter, which is Lucky’s favorite order. The platter contains red and green lentils, yellow split peas, collard greens, cabbage stew, and the house salad.
“Many people are vegan (or) vegetarian and I love cooking our vegan options. I receive many orders that are vegan foods, one of the favorites is an Ethiopian cabbage dish known as tikil gomen,” said Hailemeskel who works as the only chef at the restaurant.
Abyssinia also has an array of meat dishes popular among customers such as doro wot (a chicken stew) and kitfo, which is finely cut beef prepared in kibe, an Ethiopian butter, and mitmita, an Ethiopian spice made of cayenne pepper.
“Our most popular meat dish is tibs which is a customer’s choice of beef, lamb, fish, or chicken sautéd with a blend of Ethiopian spices and simmered onion, garlic, tomatoes, and rosemary,” said Alyu.
In addition to their authentic food, Alyu also offers a traditional coffee ceremony to the customers. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee and the coffee ceremony displays the way Ethiopians make their coffee. Imported coffee beans are freshly roasted in front of customers, and once roasted, it’s customary to go to people and have them waft the smell of the freshly roasted coffee.
Alyu explains, “Popcorn is popped and we burn some incense so customers understand the Ethiopian culture. The coffee is ground and boiled in a clay pot known as jebena and is served in coffee cups.”
For customers who don’t want the Ethiopian coffee ceremony, Alyu goes to the customer with the jebena in hand and pours the coffee from the pot. In addition, Abyssinia sells some of the imported ingredients used in the restaurant such as the berbere and mitmita spices, and Ethiopian coffee and tea.
Alyu’s vision for the restaurant is for it to grow. “It’s been here for a long time and it’s not well-known,” she says. “It’s just my mom, fiance, and I, so I do advertising online. Not many people know about Abyssinia and customers tell me that, that’s why I plan to do more advertising and catering not only to bring in more customers, but so they can see what Ethiopian food has to offer.”
This story was done in collaboration with Sacramento City College’s journalism department.