Fifteen years ago, Abraha Belachew came to Indianapolis from his native northern Ethiopia to visit a friend and found a new home. “I saw it was a quiet city, a nice city,” Belachew says, “and I decided to stay.”

Relocating with his wife, Tiruye Yilma, and two daughters, he put down roots, joined the growing Ethiopian community in Indianapolis and laid the groundwork for what would become the Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant and import store, which Belachew opened in 2003 on 38th Street between Georgetown and Moller roads on Indy’s west side.

His aim is to provide restaurant patrons with an authentic, fresh and healthy Ethiopian dining experience, and to continue his homeland’s tradition of strengthening the ties of family and friendship over food.

“Gather around the messob [a hand-sewn type of grass plate] made for a group to eat from the same platter,” says Belachew on the cover of his menu. He goes on to explain that sharing the same plate and injera, a spongy flatbread made from Ethiopian brown flour, is socially significant in his culture.

“It is said that people who eat from the same plate will never betray one another,” he adds.

What awaits at the family-friendly Abyssinia is, indeed, an authentic Ethiopian meal and atmosphere that Belachew and his wife work hard to maintain. She comes in early each morning to bake the injera that is used in lieu of silverware for picking up mouthfuls of lunch or dinner. And Belachew is the head chef, his repertoire a smorgasbord of chicken, lamb, beef, goat, egg, red lentils, yellow beans, bell peppers and cabbage, among many other ingredients. Dishes that are scooped up with injera include yemisir wot, red lentils cooked in a tangy pepper sauce; tikei gemen, a mixture of potatoes and cabbage in a butter-based sauce; and awaze tibs, dice pieces of lean lamb sauteed with onions, green peppers andawaze, a spiced red pepper sauce.

Abraha Belachew Kelley Jordan Heneveld Abyssinia Food Kelley Jordan Heneveld Tiruye Yilma Kelley Jordan Heneveld Abyssinia Food Kelley Jordan Heneveld

Freshness is of the utmost importance to him. He seeks out meat and produce from local sources whenever possible and says, “I don’t use anything frozen.

“You come for lunch, you come for dinner, you want healthy food,” he explains.

His spices, however, are imported from Ethiopia, and those who fall in love with the tasty heat of the spicy red chili pepper he uses in a number of his sauces can purchase it in the attached import store, along with Ethiopian coffee, teff (Ethiopian flour), special clay coffee pots and even hair oil.

Abyssinia Food Kelley Jordan Heneveld Tiruye Yilma Kelley Jordan Heneveld

Belachew recalls the first few years of operation were challenging. “It was very difficult to get a customer,” he said. Today that has changed. Word of mouth has garnered many customers, who come from all over the city for an Ethiopian experience that engages all the senses. Hoosier accents and foreign accents intermingle with the traditional Ethiopian music playing lightly over Abyssinia’s sound system to create a unique symphony while diners enjoy the tactile experience of eating with their fingers from dishes vibrant with the colors of red and green bell peppers and the earthy tones of meat and lentils. Ethiopian coffee served in small cups and accompanied by the sweet aroma of burning incense is a traditional topper to a meal and an invitation for continued conversation.

This makes Belachew happy. “I like to cook,” he says, and in doing so, he shares a culture-rich piece of his old homeland with his new one.

Abyssinia Food Kelley Jordan Heneveld

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