A Colorful Palate 5

Addissae Offers Ethiopian Food to Asheville

In Ethiopia, men aren’t allowed in the kitchen. But peek behind the scenes of Asheville’s Ethiopian restaurant Addissae, and it’s the sparkling eyes and contagious grin of Neeraj Kebede you’ll find hovering over the steaming pots of greens and stews.

The Ethiopian native flits around the thin galley kitchen with deftness and ease, stirring and ladling and proffering samples and smiles in equal measure. A picture of his mother—for whom the restaurant is named and Kebede’s cuisine inspired—gazes placidly over the steamy endeavors.

Like so many Ashevillians, Kebede and his wife, Vicky Schomer, instantly fell in love with our mountain town when they visited more than eleven years ago. They soon fled the West Coast in favor of our cool, lolling mountains, carving a home for themselves—and guests—in a historic Biltmore Village bungalow-turned-b&b, dubbing it the Asheville Green Cottage.

And yet, something was missing.

“For selfish reasons,” Kebede says with a laugh when asked about the impetus for opening Addissae. “Me and my wife used to travel to Charlotte or Atlanta to eat Ethiopian food, so the idea of having it here was very appealing.” But his family wasn’t the only one feeling the lack; year after year, Mountain Xpress polls proved that Asheville wanted Ethiopian, topping their annual list of what’s lacking in our local cuisine with the genre.

And so, in late 2014, Kebede and Schomer opened Addissae. Under the mentorship of two experienced Ethiopian cooks, Kebede learned to prepare the dishes his mother had made (and he had loved), then shared them with the hungry masses.

The dishes are elegantly simple: rich stews loaded with fresh, local veggies and meats from Hickory Nut Gap or Smiling Hara Tempeh, loaded onto large sharing plates and doled and dolloped out with injera, an Ethiopian sourdough-risen flatbread. Though the preparation and presentation are simple, the flavors are anything but, as colorful on the palate as they are on the plate.

Take, for example, this recipe for gomen, or collared greens. The ingredients are familiar—garlic, ginger, coriander—but the the taste is completely unique. Much like Kebede himself.