It was my first visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had just spent three and a half weeks in Nairobi, Kenya with my work. I was tired and ready to return stateside.
Having arrived into Addis on an early Friday evening, my driver, Brook (His American name) had arranged a whole day of sightseeing for Saturday. We traveled to the museum that housed Lucy the first and earliest woman recorded to date.
We went up to the hills outside Addis and saw ancient churches. . And then in the evening, we went Ethiopian shoulder dancing. Yes, I participated in this unusual dancing ritual but I’m saving that for another blog story!
Sunday, I decided to stay close to the hotel and just rest. I had another full week of work in the office.
Around four o’clock, I was really hungry and decided to venture out on my own. I walked down a long boulevard near my hotel and found a place called ROOMIE BURGERS.
There were people outside in the cool air enjoying food with big English letters spilled across a red painted sign proclaiming good hamburgers and good service. Fair enough I thought. Looks like a good place to stop.
Upon entering the establishment I was greeted by a very exuberant, costumed fellow- Mickey Mouse, complete with large four fingered gloves, fuzzy gloves and a bit dirty on the ends of the fingertips. Enthusiastically greeting me, he inquired quickly where I was from. I said Amercia. Mickey became even more excited and taking the mouth of the costume, with his big fuzzy white gloves, he pried the mouth of Mickey wide and stuck out his face.
“I have been trying for twenty years to go to America!” he said. So eager was he, I felt bad that he had been unsuccessful. Mickey seated me and quickly a young guy speaking Amharic and really, hardly a smidgen of English, presented a plasticized coved menu.
Hamburgers listed with all kinds of toppings. I prefer a classic burger and fries. I found the burger listed but not the fries. The waiter turned the menu over and pointed to the fries. Okay, I thought- a la carte.
Mickey scooted over why the waiter took my order- a side of fries and a burger. He wanted to ensure the woman from America was taken care of.
Only a few minutes later, a large plate of thickly cut fries arrived at my table, along with a mustard bottle and a serving plate. The waiter began to squeeze the yellow dispenser onto the plate. “No!” I said. I did not want mustard. I asked him to bring the ketchup- the red bottle! He looked confused.
Mickey came over again, and poking his face out of the mouth of Mickey, asked me what I needed. “Ketchup please- the red bottle.” I pointed to another table where a bottle was sitting. Mickey grabbed a red bottle and began to remove the yellow one.
“No, please leave that. I want it for my hamburger.”
Now Mickey and the waiter looked confused. They left me in peace to eat my fries. As I squeezed the red bottle, ketchup appeared. I tasted before squirting over my fries. Oh boy! This is not your Heinz 57! it tasted as if someone in the kitchen was familiar with what ketchup looked like but not how it tasted. I put the red bottle back.
Then out of curiosity, I squeezed the yellow bottle onto the plate. Ketchup again! No wonder they were confused as to why I wanted two ketchup bottles.
I sat there growing hungry and wondering why it was taking so long. I was trying hard not to plow into the fries.
I saw two young men come in thirty minutes later and be seated (by Mickey). Which by the way, Minnie was there too, sitting on a chair inside the restaurant, shaking her little Minnie black heels and looking totally bored!
Soon after the men were seated, they were chowing down on their burgers. Something is amiss I said to myself.
I left my table, went into the interior of the restaurant and found Mickey hanging out near the kitchen.
” I have not received my burger yet. Why?”
Mickey called the waiter. He came quickly. Mickey asked him something in Amharic. He answered as well in his native tongue. Mickey turned to me, and again thrusting his head through the mouth of the costume (I’ll never forget that sight!), he said, “He thought you did not want a hamburger.”
“Why? I asked>
” Because you ordered a large plate of fries.”
The logic (if there was any) failed me. “Why wouldn’t he also put my order in for a burger?”
Mickey replied, ” Because fries come with the burger! Why would you want two orders of fries?”
I was a bit thrown off with the reply and my blood sugar was not particularly stable at this point. “The menu did not say the burger comes with fries. It is why I ordered them separately.”
“Oh no Miss! In Ethiopia fries always come with hamburgers.”
Now I have to stop here and say, if this cardinal rule of the absolute pairing of burger and fries is known, it was not in the tourist book I had with me!
Mickey did what any good Ethiopian would do. What? get me a burger ordered right away with great apologies? Noooo! He wanted me to make good with the waiter.
By now, Mickey was doing his best to show his face, talk and with one somewhat worn glove place it on the waiter’s chest. “You are not upset with him? Please make good. Please make good.”
I quickly got it. The last thing they wanted was a conflict. Ethiopians are very proud but also very much about being polite and saving face. Mickey wanted me to not be upset or show any disapproval of the waiter. This was most important- over my burger.
I wasn’t angry as much as confused and hungry! Mickey kept repeating himself.
I finally gave up, asked for my ticket, paid and returned to the hotel hungry.
When I arrived at the office the next day (still hungry), I relayed my story. Everyone had a good laugh!
The week flew by and on Friday, my coworker, Asegid took me during lunch hour to a place where I could buy a half a suitcase full of bonafide Ethiopian coffee for cheap!
Afterwards, he asked if I wanted to grab lunch?
“Sure, I replied.”
He sheepishly asked me, “Do you want to go eat a burger and fries?”
I laughed and said yes.
He drove to a place that was a small alley of eating establishments lined along the road and facing each other.
Some of the burger joints were, Smash burger, In and Out, Mediterranean Burgers, Mc Donald burgers. I had hit the jackpot for burgers.
Real American eating burger joints? No!! Just take the name of these large franchises and slap it on the front of your place!
I laughed inwardly and Asegid led me to “In and Out Burger.”
We sat in a booth outside. The inside of the restaurant looked very dim. The waiter brought us menus. Pictures this time on the plasticized menu! There it was, the cardinal Ethiopian practice, a photo of a burger with a side of fries nestled right next to the bun. Yeah! I could have both.
The waiter came back with our ordered drinks. I smiled and said, “I’ll have the burger and fries.”
He popped back at me, “Sorry. You can have the burger, but the electricity is out. No fries!”
Asegid and I burst out laughing! And we ordered the burgers sans fries.
I guess I have one more thing to add to my bucket list now- travel to Ethiopia and have American burger and fries!