Leeds cafe cooks up a storm - and cultural understanding

ENTERPRISING DUO: Tina Gashaw and Ellena Valle have teamed up to open the eaterie under the railway bridge near the Corn Exchange.
ENTERPRISING DUO: Tina Gashaw and Ellena Valle have teamed up to open the eaterie under the railway bridge near the Corn Exchange.
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From the war-torn Horn of Africa to a restaurant under a railway bridge in Leeds – the journeys of Tina Gashaw and Ellena Valle certainly offer some food for thought.

The pair run an Ethiopian/Eritrean eaterie near the Corn Exchange, and it has become a home away from home for the city’s East African refugee and student community.

Now the enterprising pals want it to become a social and educational hub for the whole city.

The friendship between Ethiopian Tina, 33, and Eritrean Ellena, 48, has grown – partly – out of a turbulent shared history and heritage.

Eritrea was historically part of Ethiopia, until a bloody civil war in the 1990s led to partition. This led to political tensions between the two communities.

But Leeds – and the two women’s friendship – is helping diffuse this and other tensions through food.

The restaurant, Safari Hdmona, offers such exotic morsels as Injera (spongy flatbread), Misser Wot (Ethiopian spicy lentils) and Zigni (hot beef stew).

In just a few months, it has become a hub not just for the ladies’ own countrymen and women, but also people from neighbouring countries such as Sudan and Somalia.

Both Tina and Ellena arrived in Leeds around six years ago, Tina as an asylum seeker and Ellena from Italy, from where her father hailed. Owner Ellena opened the restaurant initially as a place for fellow Eritreans to get together.

Chef Tina, who grew up in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and cooked in her family’s restaurant before she was forced to flee her homeland, said: “We feel safe here.

“The political problems were there, but here, people are like family.

“When they come here they can forget about politics. We are like brothers and sisters, we don’t think about politics, it stays outside the door.

“People can get together here and share their experiences as well.

“Some people when they come here are very surprised. We only hear about negative things about Ethiopia, about poverty etc, but there is a very rich cuisine and culture.”

Ellena, who lives in Little London. said: “I welcome everybody here. I want them to feel at home. We are a big family. I feel like everyone’s sister.

“And I want to welcome more of the British customers here. “I love my culture and our food. I want them to have the emotional experience, and to feel at home.”

PC Geeta Lota, community engagement officer for West Yorkshire Police, wants to use the restaurant as an educational tool to raise historical and cultural awareness of a large sector of the city’s refugee community.

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