Lalibela is a holy city and a pilgrimage destination in Ethiopia. The same can be said about the Ethiopian restaurant in the middle of Vienna — at least for food pilgrims.
We didn’t know what we were getting into when paying Café Lalibela a visit. Ethiopian cuisine was new to us.
Now we are hooked. Not just on the food, but on the whole Ethiopian eating culture.
Eating with your hands belongs to the Ethiopian food culture
First of all, when was the last time you at with your fingers in a restaurant? (OK, pizza, burgers, burritos and sushi doesn’t count) Never? Well, when no cutlery turns up at your table at Cafe Lalibela, embrace the experience.
Eating with your hands is typical in Ethiopia. While this may sound sloppy – without wanting to sound too spiritual – we discovered this actually makes for a heightened sensory experience, and gives you a different connection to the food your eating.
Also typical to the country’s kitchen is the ‘Injera’ – a sourdough-risen flatbread with a slightly spongy texture that is served with all dishes.
Made with a flour called Teff (which is from a kind of grain native to the horn of Africa) it is low in calories and gluten-free.
To eat it, you rip it into pieces and scoop up all the yummy things on your plate with it. And at Cafe Lalibela, they keep bringing it to your table, as much of it as you need, for free. There’s an endless supply of it, it seems, as it’s an essential part to the meal.
Ethiopian kitchen is rich in Vegan and vegetarian dishes
One of the two vegan dishes we try is a mix of different lentil curries called Beyaynetu. A red and spicy one, a mild yellow one and a third brown one, which is like a tasty lentil stew. This is accompanied by potatoes and beans and all flavored with spices that Sara sources directly from Ethiopia.
We also try the Shiro – a vegan powdered chickpea stew.
Struggling to imagine what this would taste like? Well, imagine the best hummus you ever had and imagine it tasting a hundred times better.
And the glorious meat curries are fiery and flavoursome…
A staple dish on any Ethiopian restaurant’s menu is Wat (or wot) which is a kind of curry made with butter, Ghee, and uses a spice blend called ‘Berbere’. We go the Key Wot – a beef curry that is a mix of fried beef, onions, rosemary, pepper and chilis. We couldn’t stop with our MMMMMMing and the other strange sounds coming from deep within us signalling profound pleasure.
And then there’s the famous Ethiopian coffee ceremony to experience…
Where do you think most of these fancy coffee places source their beans from? With Ethiopia producing a bulk of the world’s coffee, they have a unique ceremony around serving it. If you like coffee, you will love the Ethiopian coffee at Café Lalibela.
You order just a mug, but if you want to pay the coffee the respect it deserves, you should ask for the typical Ethiopian coffee ceremony, especially if you’re there with a larger group. As part of the ceremony, the coffee is ground and roasted freshly in front of you, on a small table.
Accompanied by popcorn and the smell of burning incense, the whole experience takes coffee to a whole other level.
What adds up to the whole, somehow sacred experience is the atmosphere.
The whole coffee ceremony is based on an Ethiopian story that goes –
when a goat farmer discovered coffee, monks tried to destroy the drug by burning it, but they were soon overcome by the smell of the roasting beans and decided it would be better to distill them.
After one or two cups of the coffee here, you’ll feel like the monks – renewed and with a holy respect for coffee.
George, the soul of the restaurant, gives you a warm welcome and a happiness only a genuine human connection can inspire.
He smile is as bright as the place itself, with all its African masks, and colors.
A visit to Café Lalibela is more than just you typical ‘dining out’ experience, yet rather its an experience that you’ll want to tell people about long after you’ve been there.
And there’s no doubt you’ll leave the restaurant with a lighter heart, a desire to hop on a plane to Ethiopia, a full tummy and Reggae in your ears.