Lalibela is a wonderous destination famous for its churches carved from within the earth from “living rock,” which play an important part in the history of rock-cut architecture. The whole of Lalibela is a large antiquity of the medieval and post-medieval civilization of Ethiopia. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the reign of Emperor Lalibela, namely during the 12th and 13th centuries. The city is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and now also attracts curious eaters from around the world thanks to an otherworldly, spaceship-shaped restaurant sitting majestically on top of a nearby cliff.
Ben Abeba is a restaurant with wide-open spaces, spiral staircases and raised platforms located next to the historic architectural wonders of Lalibela. The restaurant is a fusion of Ethiopian and Scottish flavours. This incredible restaurant, now known as one of Ethiopia’s most successful and renowned eateries was born soon after Susan Aitchison, a retired Scottish professor arrived in Lalibela and met her future business partner, Habtamu Baye, who drove her on a 35-kilometre, bumpy journey to the school she was helping a friend set up.
Owing to her knowledge of consumer science due to her long career as a home economics professor, Aitchison encouraged the young Ethiopian who was just 22 at the time to pursue his dream of opening a small and offered to train his staff. Baye asked her to join as a full-time partner. According to the national news website, Baye and Aitchison struggled to buy a piece of land due to bureaucracy but eventually won a 99-year lease in a public auction. By then, Baye’s vision of a small restaurant had grown substantially. Today, Ben Abeba resembles a massive amusement park ride, complete with a looping ramp circling up to the idyllic rooftop. The restaurant’s modern design ensures open-air seating for more than 250 diners – most of the tourists coming in from China, the US and other parts of Africa. The duo hired local architects to put their ideas into motion creating a spiralling staircase inside the building which give diners unhampered views of the breathtaking river valley below.
After you have explored the breathtaking churches in Lalibela, do enjoy the delicacies that Ben Abeba has to offer. I know I will! The award-winning restaurant boasts a menu of both traditional Ethiopian and western dishes, sometimes mixing the two. A Scotch Injera anyone?