Salambo in Addis

Salambo discovering Ethiopia

Out the old, in the young and new…

There are many international and Ethiopian restaurants in Addis, but not all of them are as special as Sishu. Sishu is everybody’s favourite place in town, not so much for the food (they cook mainly burgers), but for its cool atmosphere and vintage setting. It is very much like the kind of place one could find in London, Copenhagen or Paris, with its well chosen vintage furniture and original decoration. It feels so comfortable and homely that I would happily spend the day there. And I am not the only one to feel this way, every time I go there I see familiar faces.

The lounge at Sishu restaurant

Sishu is set in an old house, probably built in the 1920s or 30s, which has kept its original features, and that’s what makes it special.  The wooden door frames and sash windows fashionable at the time have been beautifully maintained. The rooms are spacious with wide proportions and high ceilings, something harder to find in the more modern houses recently built in the city. Unfortunately, this type of house is becoming rare to find in Addis as they are being gradually demolished to make way for high rise buildings. From what I was told, there is a policy to preserve Addis’s architectural heritage, but it apparently covers only buildings which are 100 years old or more.

One of the high rise buildings soaring next to Sishu

As the rumour goes, the owner of Sishu is looking for a new venue for the restaurant, as the house will soon be demolished to build yet another tower.  Sishu seems to be one of the few survivors of this central area, just behind the National Theatre and the main Churchill avenue. It is surrounded by a number of construction sites erecting high rise buildings one after the other.

outside view of Sishu's house

It is a known fact that Addis is going through a construction boom. The city is rapidly changing, with building sites visible everywhere. A great number of them are for social housing, as part of a government plan to replace the old shack houses by modern and better sanitised homes. In the last fifty years, Addis has experienced unprecedented growth, with its population jumping from half a million to about four million today, so a strong urban plan is understandably needed in a city growing so fast. From the descriptions I heard of the city five to ten years ago, half of the roads were still dirt tracks with no tarmac on. Many Ethiopians who left in their youth are coming back 20 years later to a city they hardly recognise so fast is the pace of change.  However the risk is to loose some of the city’s glorious past in the process, and that would be a shame. Addis Ababa has in its old centre some great examples of 20th century buildings, combining Greek, Armenian, Italian and Indian architecture to create a style of its own. It would be nice to see the old and the new harmoniously living together.

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