Story and photos by DANEALLE PLASCENCIA
What is your first reaction when you hear that Salt Lake City offers food directly from Africa? Probably the answer would be, that is impossible.
Next you might wonder how food from another continent tastes and what the principal ingredients are.
Salt Lake City offers an extensive variety of unique restaurants, especially in close proximity to one and other in the downtown area.
The number and location are the main attraction for some visitors.
Most of these restaurants are owned by local residents who have emigrated from their home town to look for better business opportunities in the Salt Lake Valley.
Such is the case with Sleshi Tadesse, who is a resident of Salt Lake City and the owner of Mahider Ethiopian Restaurant and Market located at 1465 S. State St.
He emigrated from Ethiopia, Africa, 14 years ago to come to the United States because of personal desires.
First he lived in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and then he decided to move to Salt Lake City to go to school and find better life opportunities.
Tadesse got a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Weber State University.
After working in his career field, and getting laid off too many times, he decided to create his own business and experience something different from what he studied.
He started the project in fall 2011, with a small market with products imported directly from Africa, including the basic spices, meats, natural juices and traditional artifacts.
After some time, he realized that he needed something else to make his business more successful and attractive for the community.
That is how he started an addition for his market.
The project Tadesse had in mind was to create an Ethiopian restaurant in addition to his African market with traditional dishes.
After being just a draft idea, it became his own project that he named Mahider Ethiopian Restaurant and Market.
Now Tedesse is the owner of the first Ethiopian restaurant in Salt Lake City.
His restaurant represents some of the oldest dishes in the world that were created in Ethiopia, and recipes from his family back in Africa.
Mahider offers a variety of entrees made of beef, chicken and vegetarian delights made with collard greens, cabbage, split peas and lentils. The restaurant also offers salads as well as beers from Ethiopia.
Ljubisa Mijatovic, a first-time customer, said, “I am vegetarian, and I’m really surprised of all the vegetarian options that this restaurant offers, especially the veggie platter which is great.”
Herbs and spices are imported from Ethiopia to make the traditional flavor come out from the dishes and allow customers to have authentic African food.
Tradition is an important part of Mahider’s restaurant.
It encourages customers to eat the traditional flatbread and other dishes with their hands as is done in Ethiopia. Of course, utensils are provided in case that gets too complicated.
The famous Ethiopian flat bread is made of indigenous grain called “teff,” which is one of the oldest grains on Earth and makes interesting and unique flat bread.
Another important tradition and example of Ethiopian hospitality that Mahider’s Restaurant and Market offers are the coffee ceremonies. They are an integral part of Ethiopia’s social and cultural life, which describes how close the culture is.
These ceremonies consist of having home-roasted Ethiopian beans, and making fresh coffee.
“Coffee has social value in our society and is deep rooted in our culture,” Tedesse said.
This is made right in front of the customer and is designed to share with family and friends in front of an interesting background. Short stools are decorated with different kinds of fabric and some of them are carved from wood.
The coffee ceremony is a mark of friendship or respect for the African community, and the ceremony can go for at least a couple of hours, depending on the customer’s time and ability.
“Experiencing the coffee ceremony is a plus of this restaurant. Besides sharing great dishes with your family, you get to enjoy coffee, and have a great conversation,” Mijatovic said.
Culture and community acceptance is really important for Tedesse, and he is really happy that the community has accepted well his traditional food and customs, which was the reaction that he was looking for.
Mahider Restaurant and Market has become increasingly popular with Salt Lake City residents, and customers who have tried the food have posted good reviews on Urbanspoon.
“The business is going pretty good, especially Friday, Saturday and Sundays,” Tadesse said.
Mahider Restaurant and Market is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and weekends from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information call (801) 975-1111.