Tej bet: where to drink honey wine in Addis Ababa
The city’s sweetest spots for this typical Ethiopian tipple
Though Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, it also happens to be a fine destination for honey. Tej, the national drink of Ethiopia, is a must-try mead for anyone visiting the country. Made of three ingredients – honey, water and gesho leaves (also known as shiny-leaf buckthorn) – homemade tej appears deep yellow or orange in colour, after months of fermenting. It’s usually consumed out of a berele, a long-necked, bottom-heavy glass resembling a beaker.
Tej is often touted as the imbibing choice of nobility. It can be paired with injera and wot (Ethiopian staples), but the tart and tangy sweetness of the drink could easily stand alone as an after-meal treat.
Looking for a taste? An actual tej house (or bet, in Amharic) offers a unique atmosphere for sampling. These low-key spots are sprinkled in and outside of the capital city of Addis Ababa, usually off the main roads, behind nondescript exteriors. They’re typically female-owned and male-dominated. But you can also find tej at practically every hotel, restaurant and establishment in the capital city. Depending on where you go and when, you’ll have a chance to consume your honey wine while appreciating azmari performers, who wield a stringed instrument, called a masenqo, and combine improvised music with tongue-in-cheek stand-up comedy for the crowd.
We’ve rounded up our favourite tej locales around Addis.
This restaurant, bar and cultural centre may, perhaps, be the best and least kept secret in Addis. It’s perfect for good tej and live music. Marvel in awe as choreographer and dancer Melaku Belay, in collaboration with a cast of other performers, adds a whole new meaning to break dancing. You can also grab a berele and wander outside on a cold night to huddle around the fire pit.
Zewditu Street, Kazanchis, Kirkos Sub City
Only five minutes from Bole Airport, Yod gives visitors an immediate (or last-minute) opportunity to enjoy Ethiopian cuisine and cultural dances from different regions across the country. Cultural ambassadors and diplomats, like Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau have been hosted here.
Facebook: YOD Abyssinia Cultural Restaurant
A favourite tourist spot that’s also visited by locals with a reliable offering of food and entertainment for any weekend outing. Sit in front of a traditional hand-woven mesob and share a communal plate with a direct view of the stage, as a troupe of dancers in cultural garb display customs and moves from across Ethiopia.
Sabit Building, Bole
Near the Piazza area, sip your sweet drink in a place with some old-school flavour; a destination to devour all the traditional entertainment you want. And, if you find that you’ve had a bit too much tej, you may also appreciate another kind of roast, that has nothing to do with bitingly clever azmari jokes. They’re known to do the traditional coffee ceremony here.
Messalmia, Addis Ababa
A two-story restaurant with a relaxed setting where, in addition to tej, you can also treat yourself to something in the cafe or a treatment at the hot springs spa. The rustic interior is cozy and filled with artisan crafts.
Sitting in a garden drinking tej—what could be better than that? A tej spot, unlike any other. Bata is actually a park worth an afternoon gathering or solo excursion. Sip your tej in the shade of palm trees, surrounded by lion statues and a lush garden.
Facebook: BATA Restaurant & Park
Inside, the painted walls showcase people drinking tej, so even if you’re alone, you’re in good company. The establishment gets its name from owner, Tobia Mamuye, and has been around since the late 1990s.
Off Haile Gebreselassie Rd, behind Axum Hotel
A well-known venue for tej and traditional eats, Dashen was founded in 1976 and is named in honor of Ras Dashen, the highest mountain in Ethiopia. The tej may taste the same anytime of the year, but the experience will certainly be much sweeter, if you visit the restaurant to celebrate a major holiday, such as Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year), Gena (Christmas) or Meskel.