Feasting on Foreign Fare

"Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant"
In order to keep the food authentic, the restaurant is engaging chefs from guest countries to prepare the fare.

The beautifully appointed Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant opened on the fifth floor of the Boston Partners Building on Africa Avenue (Bole Road) on Thursday, July 1, 2010.

This unique restaurant is planning to host a different country every month in order to present genuine traditional cuisine. In order to keep the food authentic, the restaurant is engaging chefs from guest countries to prepare the fare. This month, July, they are hosting the country of Indonesia.

When entering the restaurant, one is struck by the light which comes streaming in through the fifth floor windows and reflects off the pure white crockery laid on the polished hardwood tabletops.

“The idea is to give Addis residents a taste of the world,” said Tadiwos Getachew Belete, president and CEO of Boston Partners Plc, owner of the elegant Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant.

Countries are already lining up after Indonesia. Egypt, France, Turkey, Portugal, Spain, India, and Sweden have signed up, while the possibility of Mexico, Israel, and Nigeria are being looked into.

“International cuisine is underrepresented in Addis,” believes Tadiwos.“I would like to fill that gap, have the whole world rotating.”

Personally, Tadiwos would love to host Sudan, where he was a refugee in his youth, as well as Brazil, whose culture he thinks would gel with Ethiopia’s very well.

Tadiwos is a charming host. He lived in the US for 20 years where he owned a spa in Boston. Seven years ago, he returned to Ethiopia and opened Boston Day Spa and later Kuriftu Resort and Spa on Bishoftu’s Lake Kuriftu and on Lake Tana.

There was a demand for international food in Addis Abeba which was not being met, Boston Partners decided, given that the city is the seat of the African Union and home to a large international and diplomatic community.

The group pitched the idea to embassies, some of whom have signed up for the rotation already. Ambassadors select the chefs, and embassies fly them to Ethiopia, where they work at Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant for a month, giving embassies a major opportunity to do public relations the whole month long.

“We wanted professional, expert chefs,” said Tadiwos. We do not want to fake it, [because] people will know.”

“The service industry suffered under communism, leaving Ethiopia with the lack of a legacy [thereof], and so we have to import training,” said Tadiwos.

The restaurant is stylishly furnished with simple wood finishing and just a touch of the eclectic to make it the perfect canvas to paint an exotic picture on.

To keep things real, music and even outfits for the waiters have been provided by the guest country, in this case, a contribution from the Indonesian Embassy. The music certainly adds to the ambience, and the attentive waiters in traditional dress almost makes one forget that one is in Addis.

"Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant Dish"
The restaurants in the resorts have recruited chefs from abroad before, on a temporary basis.

The service is good, as one would expect from any high-end restaurant in the city. Prices are reasonable at 65 Br for a main course and 40Br and under for soups and starters.

“We want Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant to serve the community of Addis, not just the diplomats,” said Tadiwos.

“The job of a diplomat is to bring his country to other people,” said Belete Mekuria (PhD), vice-president of Boston Partners Plc. “That is the idea, really, to bring different people together.”

The restaurant keeps two menus, one standard menu, that is always available, and one from the guest country. Aside from this menu changing from country to country every month, it also changes weekly to include dishes from different regions of the featured country, with some dishes repeated.

The chefs appear to enjoy a lot of creative freedom, being given free range on what they cook.

“A chef is an artist; they have to have a feel for the food and create what they want,” said Tadiwos. “I do not want to limit them.”

The guest chefs this month, Pujawan and Sunar, are teachers from the Bali Tourism Institute.

Some ingredients that are used in Indonesian cooking are hard to come by in Ethiopia. Sambals, spice relishes made of many different spices, are the key to Indonesian food.

“A lot of spices, we [could] not find here, so we replaced our cassia leaf with cumin,” said Sunar.

Luckily, the native chefs at the embassies already know what is plentiful in Addis and what is not and can advise on what the guest chefs need to bring with them from their home countries. Authentic rice cakes and coconut milk are a case in point.

“We must bring coconut milk.” said Pujawan.“We have to put coconut milk in.”

The main dish, Bali Be Pasih, tilapia fish in curry and coconut milk sauce, is lovely.

One item they might have considered importing, however, is the tofu. They did manage to get some locally, but the tofu here turned out to be sour and dry in comparison with the infinitely tastier Asian variety. The starter Gado Gado features tofu with fresh vegetables and a delicious peanut sauce, another South East Asian signature ingredient.

Another starter, Lumpia, consists of spring rolls with a most delightful aroma. The thin crispy exterior of the fried rolls belies a moist warm centre filled with succulent vegetables that melt in the mouth with an explosion of spices. The Sop Butut, a salty oxtail soup, and Sayur Asem, sour squash vegetable soup, is very good.

The main course, Sapi Kecap, tender beef in soy sauce, and Sate Aqum, beef and chicken kebabs with peanut sauce, are served with rice, an Asian staple.

“We eat rice morning, noon, and night,” said Pujawan.

The banana and rice combination is especially enticing. Banana is evident not only in some of the rice cakes but also in the desert. Served as a salad in a sweet sauce, Kolak Pisang features the banana along with pumpkin and pear, giving it a taste that is altogether unique.

Guest chefs also train the local staff in the restaurant in the fine art of their cooking.

“By the end of the year, each featured country will have its best dish on the regular menu,” said Tadiwos. “It will give our city true international cuisine.”

The Kuriftu Diplomat Restaurant can be a tasteful experience for the culinary inquisitive and the less adventurous, alike.

By Mireille de Villiers   AddisFortune.com

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