An Exceptional Week of Italian Cuisine




The Week of Italian Cuisine festival was held in Ethiopia for the first time, last week. It was a fabulous festival and I am glad to have attended. It made me an instant fan of all things Italian. I have experienced many festivals at home and abroad, but the Italian festival was a rare treat and a memorable time well spent among great people. I hope many others experienced it as well.

Organised by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Cooperation, the festival hosted more than 1,000 events in well over 100 countries. This is the first time it was held in Ethiopia and it was a welcome addition to the many festivals the country hosts as the diplomatic capital of Africa. If the Ethiopian version was any indication of what was experienced elsewhere, it is managing to make a lasting impression on many people, helping them to discover and rediscover beautiful Italy.

All throughout the country, including in Hawassa (Venezia restaurant) and Dire Dawa (Ristorante Padadiso), many businesses and institutions participated. Offering rare Italian culinary, assisted by the ENAIP Institute professional training of Italy – who collaborated with local chefs – the week was a treat to those daring to venture into a unique cultural destination. The Institute has as part of its remit “vocational education and training; employment services, guidance and job placement; promotion of social inclusion to fight marginalisation; support for innovation and development processes for public and private organisations, at the national and international level”.

Big box international hotels, such as the Sheraton, Hilton, Radisson Blu and Saro Maria, and boutique restaurants like Gusto, Abucci, Antica, Effoi Piza and Mamma Mia brought the Italian experience to the next level. Even the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) got in on the act and offered Italian inspired menus at its staff cafeteria and the Delegates’ lounge. It was a busy Italian week in Ethiopia. More cities in Ethiopia are expected to join the festival in the coming years.

To a population that is used to an imitation of real Italian cuisine and fashion, just imagine what the real cuisine tastes like. In a society dominated by Chinese made cheap products, real Italian is a great discovery. I accepted an invitation from the Italian Embassy to attend the opening ceremony at the Italian Ambassador’s residence on top of Kebena mountain, just north of the German Embassy.

With guests including Olympian Haile Gebreselassie; the legendary Ethiopian artist and father of Ethio-Jazz, Mulatu Astatke, and up-and-coming popular artist, Betty G, alongside the diplomatic community, we were offered perfect Italian hospitality – great food, wine and great conversation. It was all things that anyone could imagine a perfect night to be. The food was exceptional – this is from someone who does not have a special appetite for food in general. The wine, courtesy of the Ecological School of Cornegliano, was a welcome combination. Again, Italy makes the best wine in the world and is a good standard to emulate for others. The hospitality of the Ambassador and his staff members was great.

The menu was a dedication to the “Veneto” region, where the Ambassador’s hometown sits. It included parmesan cheese, black cuttlefish and Bigoli with a variety sauces, including duck, sardine, special rice with chicken liver, Vicenza style salted codfish, venetian style liver roasted potatoes, cornmeal mush and gnoccone farcito.

On the second and third nights of the festival, which ended on Sunday, special culinary events were held all throughout Addis Abeba. Gusto Restaurant, located on the hills of Churchill Street, a stone’s throw away from the Italian-influenced area of Piasa, hosted a full house of diplomats, tourists and locals on Friday, while Villa Verde, a gem in a neglected dusty part of the capital, also hosted a memorable night on Saturday evening.

On Saturday, November 26, inside the Italian Cultural Institute, a slew of movies were shown – “food on screen” – a tasty Italian movie marathon. The opening movie was about three young Calabrians, who got a break in life after a chance meeting with the fiancée of the famous French actor, Gerard Depardieau. There was another movie showing on the wine making business in Italy. The movie is an exemplary example as to why people should drink wine – “a friend’s arrival, the excellence of the wine, present and future thirst, and whatever else you care to add”. Le Cena/The Dinner, a comedy, was also screened. The movie was an experience of an evening at an Italian restaurant, where various parties of the middle-class come in and have a conversation over a glass of wine”.

A weekly Italian cooking course was also launched and began giving a ten-week class last week in collaboration with Ristorante Belvedere. There was a lot of interest in it from all sectors of society. What a week it was and I already miss it.

There have been many Italian influences in Ethiopia. From the many cafes that sell Italian inspired coffees, the pastries that remain a favourite of most, the many Italian schools that are noted for being the largest Italian schools in Africa, the beautiful and historical architectural buildings, the shrinking Italian-Ethiopian communities that have made their mark on the country, the Italian engineers and the architects behind the Renaissance Dam, the Italian influence in Ethiopia is to be noted and celebrated.

The Italian government built the first railway across to Djibouti, which was for the longest time a great contributor to Ethiopia’s economy, and the country remains an important trade partner. Ethiopia is one of its major partners and it is a major investor in the Ethiopian economy. As for the festival, I cannot wait for next year and I hope to visit Italy in the near future.



By Samuel Getachew


Published on Dec 06,2016 [ Vol 17 ,No 866]


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