The Ethiopian restaurant Minilik opened in Kópavogur, a neighboring town of Reykjavík, last month. It’s a branch of a restaurant with the same name which attracted a number of diners to Flúðir, south Iceland, when it opened there last summer.
From Ethiopia. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.
“I moved to Iceland in 2000 and always wanted to open an Ethiopian restaurant and that way introduce Icelanders to my country. Everyone knows the problems of Ethiopia but few know its history and culture,” Yirga Mekonnen, who runs the restaurant with his wife Lemlem Kahssay, told Fréttablaðið.
At Minilik traditional Ethiopian food is served where all fresh ingredients are bought in Iceland but most spices and coffee beans are imported from Ethiopia.
The food is served with enjera, a flat sourdough bread which replaces cutlery. “Of course people are welcome to have cutlery if they wish, but we teach them how enjera can be used in its stead and to eat with the fingers.”
The coffee culture is strong in Ethiopia; coffee originates from Kaffa, a city in the western part of the country. At Minilik the culture is honored as coffee is served after a special ceremony.
“Lemlem is always responsible for the ceremony; it is strictly forbidden for men to be involved,” Yirga explained.
“She wears special Ethiopian clothing and has to do everything according to certain rules. She roasts the beans on a special pan and everyone in the dining hall can enjoy the scent. Then she prepares the coffee at a coffee table in the center of the hall,” he described.
In spite of their busy schedule in Iceland, the couple also contribute to their home country. In 2010 the arranged for the opening of a kindergarten in Gidole where 17 orphans are now cared for and educated, thanks to Icelandic sponsors.
“There are so many good people in Iceland who were prepared to help me when I needed it and it encouraged me to help others,” Yirga said.
Minilik will continue to be open in Flúðir in the summer, where it is run by Lemlem’s sister and her husband.