Food and music in Jimma (and other Ethiopian) restaurants: some quibbles

A rather disgruntled Giorgio Bulgarelli writes:
I think you should clearly write that when you ask some of the Western dishes written in the menus of most Ethiopian restaurants, the usual answer is የለም (yäläm, or no). Not because they’ve finished the related ingredients, but because they never bought them. Usually, menus —also in some good restaurants— are written only once and left there till the paper is worn and needs to be replaced. I think it is only a way to fill the paper; no matter about the dishes.
Here, in Jimma, I decided to test the restaurants you quoted in your guidebook. Hence, some weeks ago I wished to taste some of the “varied selection of local and exotic dishes” of Central Jimma Hotel. My guest and I sat in the garden and ordered ‘tournedos à la Rossini’ and “filet mignon with mushroom sauce”. Although we were among the first customers of the day, the answer was, inevitably, yellem. Then, I asked for some other food and realised that almost half of the listed “exotic dishes” weren’t available.
The behaviour of the maître of the restaurant of Central Jimma Hotel is really irritant. I checked all the ferenj food there, and I found out that they only have two of them. The most irritant aspect was about continental breakfast. They clearly write that there are toasts, butter and jam and some unspecified “hot drink”. However, I spent a week there and everyday, since the early morning they had “finished” the butter notwithstanding there is a supermarket across the street where they could buy it, if they only wished. No way to have a pot of milk and one of coffee: they only serve cups filled till the edge with foaming liquid! Not to say of the “sirloin steak”, which is around 2 mm thick and tough as the sole of a shoe, or of the sourest fish goulash I ever tasted.
Just few words about goulash because it is commonly mistaken everywhere. In Hungary, where gulyás —this is the correct spelling— is the national food, it is not the dish known elsewhere. The meat stew which we wrongly call goulash is, actually, called pörkölt in Hungary ( In any case, pörkölt in Hungarian, means “sautéed” rather than “roasted”. The gulyás I ate there several times in Hungary is a rather thick soup of meat and vegetables. It used to be the meal of herdsmen living in the Puszta. However, waiters and waitress are so clever and patient, even in the most remote areas of Hungary, to bring you pörkölt when you ask for goulash. Unlike Ethiopia, I never saw fish pörkölt in Hungary. Although I do not know the recipe of Ethiopian fish goulash, it doesn’t seem that the fish has ever been “sautéed”.
At Central Jimma Hotel, the fish was fried in a lot of oil —like chips— and added to some sort of tomato sauce. Probably, the same they use for spaghetti.
In Italy we make fish sauces and various kinds —at least one for each region— of fish stews, however, in no case the fish is added fried to something else. The fish —one or more kinds of it, often also with mussels and crustaceans—is cooked first and then tomatoes and other ingredients are added. Therefore, the taste of the fish mixes with that of the other ingredients to make a real fish meal. Here. the fish adds no flavour to the rest unless you chew just a piece of it.
In some Ethiopian restaurants I found that they fry the fish even to make fish kebab!
My most frustrating experience was a couple of day ago at the restaurant of Nigus Palace Hotel. Probably the most expensive in town. My secretary knew that it was the best restaurant in Jimma and I wanted to test it by inviting one of my colleagues. The environment looked inviting, and really tempted was the menu with pages and pages of “exotic” foods. Unfortunately, only two or three of them were available. The waitress didn’t know which they were and had to go to ask each time. After having ordered six different dishes which weren’t available, I decided to eat two eggs fried on one side only. Some minutes later a waiter came with two hard eggs! I must point out that the fried eggs were ordered by me in English but confirmed in Amharic by my secretary. Fortunately, my guests had ordered two of the available dishes and the waiter took the right ones.
You write that they ‘may’ add ሽንኩርት (šänkurt), ቲማቲም (timatim) and ቃሪያ (qariya)  to the omelettes. Well, only in very few special exceptions I got real “plain” omelette or scrambled eggs. They always add something else; at least qariya. Once, I clearly asked for a “plain” omelet without anything added. As a result, they served me an omelette from which they had taken out the ‘extras’ after having cooked it.
Moreover, apart from the wrong way in which they are written, in 90% of cases the dishes do not comply with the recipes known elsewhere.
Only for “pasta with tomato sauce” you can be —almost— sure. Even though the sauce tastes more “alla arrabbiata” ( than “col pomodoro”. And, although it can be spelt “macaroni” or something similar, the pasta is only spaghetti while, as you certainly know, there are more than 200 varieties of pasta (
I found out that, except for some few notable exceptions, if you ask for something “roasted” or “grilled”, it is actually fried on a hot plate like hamburgers. The result is that the meat, fish or whatever else, is fried in its own grease, with unpleasant —and, maybe, harmful— effects on the level of cholesterol and triglycerides! I saw few appliances with racks used only for open-air barbecues .
About exotic foods, they are mostly something different from the original ones. I wanted to taste “fish meunière ” at the restaurant of Honeyland Hotel in Jimma. The food was delicious, but it wasn’t at all à la meunière because the fish had not been dredged in seasoned flour as needed (
Not to say of Italian “carbonara” and “bolognese” sauces that you can read in many menus, but which must be done with pancetta, a sort of unsmoked bacon ( I tasted it in true Italian restaurants in Addis —such as Castelli and Circolo Juventus— made with pancetta, and I think it is the same in all resturants run by Italians with an Italian chef. Since in Eritrea they use some awful halal “mortadella” to make “carbonara”, I didn’t even try to taste it non-Italian restaurants.
Just to let you know, good fake mortadella, ham and similar cold cuts can be found in most kosher stores in Rome. The Jewish community in Rome is probably the oldest in the world and certainly in Europe. There were already some Jews in the 2nd century BCE. However, most of them were deported to Rome from emperor Titus after he destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem.
I think you should warn the readers of a further, very important —and for me really disturbing— point: it is very difficult to find a restaurant without some —often very loud— Ethiopian music. I love any kind of music —ancient, mediaeval, renaissance, baroque, classic, romantic, contemporary, symphonic, concert, jazz, religious, folk, choral, pop, indie, rock, opera, etc.— and there is always some background music wherever I work or live. However, unless I want to pay attention to the words of a song or opera, the music has to be in the background and kept at a low volume. Very often, in some Ethiopian restaurants I am even unable to speak with the person sitting beside me because of the noise. In some cases, you even find loud music and television together. I wonder how somebody could be able to listen to anything of them, but this is the way it goes. Although somebody may like Ethiopian music most ferenj will end up with hating it after having spent two months here.Unless they are here just to record the music!

Arba Minch and surrounds

Jean Newbury writes:

Arba Minch

– Getting there on ‘level 1’ bus from Terra in Mercato, when buying ticket I insisted on a window seat and was given (with a chuckle) seat number 01. This is across from the driver and offers amazing views out of the windshield. Downside is you won’t be allowed to sleep, I received sharp prods every time I drifted off! View will keep you going though.

– Main draws – park and crocodile market – are very tough without a group, own transport or enough money to hire a 4×4 ($150 a day). I hung around the park entrance to try and join a group, but the shifty guides were most unhelpful and reluctant to allow this. Walk to 40 Springs is worth it.

– Lake Abaya jetty, 500m or so past the crocodile ranch, is not accessible. You can get to within 200m of the lake, but then swamp and marsh land block access. Don’t try and walk it – I saw a crocodile when I did, scary. Road there is pleasant, saw thirty or so baboons and white tailed monkeys.

– Avoid Kairo Hotel at all costs. Worst hotel I’ve stayed in to date and overpriced. Due to construction, it’s become the new Abaya Hotel – buses leaving early, condoms in drawer, might as well have slept in the church it’s so close and loud.

– Tourist Hotel does not sell pizzas.

– Arba Minch market is worth a wander, small but colourful (I saw it on a Wednesday).

– Really recommend walking to the hilltop church in Secha for the sunrise over the lakes. Go West at the Oil Libya roundabout (past hotel Roza), you’ll see the red, yellow and green coloured church on the hill straight ahead.


– Guides are not mandatory for a visit to the weaving and potters cooperatives (100 bir for entrance to both).

– Local buses from Arba Minch leave when full and there are no minibuses running the route. The bus is 18 bir, don’t pay more.


– Market doesn’t really kick off until past 11am.

– Buses leave to Arba Minch when full, reserve seat with bag and go for a walk.

– Easy walk from Dorze or flag a free lift with a passing bus.


– Simple day trip from Arba Minch with frequent minibuses (30 bir). Amazing scenery.

– For Konso village (Dekatu – 3km walk up hill, past museum), guide is not necessary

Selam & Sky Bus to Jimma

Chuck writes:

I’ve lived in Ethiopia (in Bonga, just 3 hours past Jimma) for most of 2011 and 2012 and can share some tips:

Both Selam Bus and Sky Bus travel the route between Addis and Jimma, but stick to no consistent schedule and frequently cancel buses the morning of departure (and expect you to just stick around for another day in Addis, as they offer no refunds). They use their most decrepit buses for this journey, but reserve their nicest buses for the North.

In Addis: Selam’s ticket station is across from Meskel Square down an alley. Sky Bus’s ticketing is done next to Taitu Hotel in Piazza. Both buses depart from Meskel Square. Selam only departs in the morning, but you may find that Sky Bus alternately departs at 1 pm in the afternoon (as it tries to do a round-trip journey to/from Jimma).

In Jimma: Selam’s ticket office is in same building as Central Jimma Hotel. Sky Bus office is next to Syf Hotel. Both buses depart from these ticket offices.

I could write in which days which bus travels between Addis and Jimma and vice versa, but that information will be completely obsolete by tomorrow. I’m dead serious. Your best bet is to get to the ticket offices two days in advance and check both Sky and Selam. My guess is that these luxury buses don’t understand the first thing about customer service: that you stick to a schedule and maintain reliability and consistency over the loss of a few birr here and there. Instead they would rather inconvenience you as much as possible.

I have to make the trip between Jimma and Addis quite often and will always try to avoid Selam and Sky bus if possible.

Some current hotel prices

Suzanne writes: Prices have all gone up, some by more than 100%. Below I’ve listed the page number (5th Edition) , hotel and new price in order as we travelled around.

553       Ambo            Abebech Matafaria Hotel                        Twin Room            295 B

575       Across the street from Classic Café – new Hotel called Desalegan Hotel      Twin 330 B, Manager      Ms Tigist      0911 820 175     reception 0576 616 262.

560      Jimma            Central Hotel                                                Twin Room            304 B, The swimming pool was clean – my 9yr old happily swam in it.

153      Addis  Ababa  Mr Martin’s Cozy Place            Family Room                        340 B, Internet  35c per minute ( not 50c). Extremely clean and extremely well run by Dawit ( no longer German owned). Extremely good value and was NEVER loud ( we stayed there 3 times over 5 nights)

204        Bahir Dar            Ghion Hotel ( the darkest , dingiest place I have seen)    Twin/ triple 400 B

225        Gonder                        Queen Taitu                        Twin            280 B

226/7       Gonder Golden Gate Bar and Restaurant does not offer Chinese food, Tuscany no longer exists – now called Habesha (groovy place), Roman Hotel does not sell icecream

238       Debark                        Simien Park Hotel            Triple            400 B

256        Axum                        Africa Hotel                        Triple            300 B

268        Yeha                        Entrance                        100 B

290        Gheralta             Gheralta Lodge            EXCELLENT                        Triple            $70 (inc Breakfast), 120 B  for a 5 course Dinner

291         Abuna Yemata Guh                                    100 B entrance

291         Debre Maryam Korkor                        100 B entrance

292        Abuna Abraham Debre Tsion                        Horrible Priest – wanted a 50 B tip and was not going to open the church door. We gave him 15 .Only bad experience we had with the priests and the churches – all the others were fine and took a tip after our visit

356/7      Lalibela            Seven Olives                        Poor value – dark + musty rooms            Twin            $42;  Timkat Twin $100;  Asheton            Better value            Twin            500 B for 3, ohers reported paying 350 B for a couple

444           Hosaina            Heme Hotel            Twin            276 B

511            Arba Minch            Bekele Mola              800 B for db room + dinner (2 course) + breakfast; Paid extra 100 B for mattress. We really didn’t like this place – very isolated and apart from the view – nothing special. The meals were some of the most expensive that we saw in Ethiopia and since our fee only included 2 people , we had to pay extra for our daughter to eat and it was expensive ( so were the drinks). I would not recommend that place to individuals – OK for big groups but just stuck out in the middle of nowhere. Had to go to the doctor in Arba Minch and was recommended to go to Abaya Medical Clinic ( near the bus station) by an English nurse who works in Arba Minch. Good service.

516            Chencha + Dorze            Obligatory 150 B entrance fee to Chencha market. Initially said that it included entrance inside Dorze home as well and then asked for more money so that needs to be clarified. We did not pay more money. Dorze homes are 100% made of bamboo + grass – they are not made of enset ( false banana) leaves. The guides were adamant of that. The market in Chencha is Tuesday  ( not Monday) + Saturday. Meskel is celebrated in Dorze on 27th September ( not 1st October)

552            Konso    Strawberry Fields Eco Lodge                        Looked like a dump; Ate the worse meal I had in Ethiopia at the restaurant; It was so bad that I refused to pay for it. Karat Konso Villages – Drivers tend to take tourists to a closer village called Gamole (7kms). Obligatory   150 B  Guide  + 60 B per vehicle + 50 B per person entrance

532            Key Afar + Dimeka markets            Obligatory 150 B guide

536            Buska Lodge in Turmi            Double US $100 ( including breakfast); Twin  $ 105; Double camping with spring mattress  $ 50 ( no breakfast); Double camping with mattress on ground $ 15 ( good value); Single camping with spring mattress $ 35; Single camping with mattress on ground $ 10

541            Kolcho to visit the Karo tribe 350 B village entrance + 150 B guide (obligatory)

504           Yabello            Yabello Motel                        Large twin            863 B ( book says 200 B)

533           Arbore Tribe Wanted 200 B village entrance + 150 B non English speaking guide (didn’t stop)

463           Wondo Ganet            Wabe Shabelle Hotel                        Twin            606 B week day

That’s a

News from Jimma

Hi I have just been in Jimma for 10 days and lived in Central Jimma hotel. The price was the same as on the price list (169 Birr for a good, clean room with private shower). There was electricity nearly every day. They have email in the reception. Food in Central Jimma is excellent. In the moment they are making new main roads in Jimma, so it is a little bit dusty. The road from Addis to Jimma is very good. The way back to Addis I wanted to drive with Selam bus – but it is not driving every day. So i went with public bus – it was o.k. (8 hours).Flight costs 640 birr -every day without monday.

Greetings from Austria, Martin

Wenchi & Jimma


Negash Lodge in Woliso now charges 506 birr and above for their rooms, it seems that the place has been privatised and the prices almost tripled from what you mention in your guidebook


 did an overnight trip to Wenchi. It is really beautiful. I stayed in

Ambo at the Abebech Matafaria Hotel and paid 140 birr for a single (with a queen size bed). Full breakfast at the hotel was 25 birr.

The hotel is also building at lodge at the entrance to the Wenchi crater lake. Looks like it should be finished before the end of the year.

Gudar falls charge 10 birr entrance for foreigners and 10 birr for the camera. 3 birr for Ethiopians.


In Jimma I stayed at the SYF hotel (the only place with a room, as it was graduation weekend), very much overpriced at 200 birr, water only occasionaly, mostly bucket showers, electricity only every other day (like most places in Ethiopa at the moment) There is nice juice in Jimma, but I (with my verymuch africanised intestines) still caught some bug and was pretty sick for about 24 hours. The restaurant at Syf has good national dishes (excellent shiro tagamino) and decent pasta (a bit greasy, but tasty), but it sharges more if you order from the English menu.


I almost missed my plane in Jimma on the way back, as there was a schedule change (and the flight lest 1 hour earlier than planned). I never got the call (what with the network being really bad, it is no wonder). I would suggest that even if you are told in Addis that your return has been confirmed, you should check with the EA the day of your flight, or the night before. 

Liza Debevec