Providence's Ethiopian Ambassador Takes It Outside

Abyssinia opened on Wickenden Street last year as the first Ethiopian restaurant in Providence. Despite its popularity elsewhere in New England, particularly in Boston, the East African cuisine …

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Abyssinia opened on Wickenden Street last year as the first Ethiopian restaurant in Providence. Despite its popularity elsewhere in New England, particularly in Boston, the East African cuisine hadn’t yet taken hold here – and despite Abyssinia’s popularity, for many people it still hasn’t. (African food in general is sadly scarce in the Providence area. Elea’s in South Providence is a popular neighborhood spot for Liberian food. Village provides some Nigerian specialties in Pawtucket, and the excellent Senegalese restaurant Dakar was unfortunately short lived in Central Falls.) That’s why Ben Thorp, one of the proprietors of Abyssinia, is launching the restaurant’s food cart this month. It’s expanding on the business’ twofold mission: to help popularize the cuisines of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea in Providence, and to cultivate what Thorp calls a “social entrepreneur business,” which employs refugees and immigrants to use and share the culinary skills developed in their home countries. The modified hot dog cart will make many of the usual food truck rounds – special events, College Hill, farmer’s markets – serving a variety of Ethiopian specialties, with a focus on the wats, or stews, for which the cuisine is best known. The restaurant already has a loyal fan base, and the ability to go mobile will allow Abyssinia to bring what is arguably one of the world’s most underrated food cultures to more people in more places. It’s the first step in what Thorp envisions as a fleet of mobile eateries, all employing refugees to share the foods of their home countries, and he’s trying to secure nonprofit funding to establish training programs. Be on the lookout for it this summer, because if you’re one of the unfortunate souls who still hasn’t tried Ethiopian food, now’s the time to change that.