So let’s get this straight. I am from India. I understand chaos, unregulated traffic, hustle, and bustle. Crowds don’t deter me and when I say, that Addis Mercato is not a child’s play, you know that I am not joking. Considered to be Africa’s biggest market, it is an open-air sprawl where you can buy anything and all things Ethiopian. Established during the Italian occupation, Addis Mercato is just 1 kilometer west of Piazza and foreign travelers are recommended to explore the market with the help of local guides.

Buying spices at Addis Mercato

Buying spices at Addis Mercato

Mercato shows a slice of Ethiopian life

I visited the Addis Mercato to buy Ethiopian butter called niter kibbeh and found the experience to be equal parts fascinating and exasperating. Donkeys and other livestock run around freely there, buses and trucks load and unload countless bundles of supplies, and shoppers weave between them thick as flies. It is extremely atmospheric, busy, and hectic, and if you stop in the midst of it all open-mouthed in amazement or to take pictures, expect to be jostled around. The people who earn their livelihoods at this market don’t have much time and the more they work, the better becomes their paycheck. The Mercato visit came with the part of the Ethiopian cooking class and thankfully, I had a guide to help me avoid pickpockets and navigate the vast sprawl. It is easy to get lost here as the collection of markets weave unwieldily in all directions and unless you are with someone who knows the place, you will not figure out what you are going to stumble into or what you will find. There is a certain energy that leaves you breathless: collective energy of hundreds of sweating, working, breathing, struggling human bodies and Addis Mercato is a vivid example of the busy hectic struggle that most Ethiopians call daily life.

Addis Mercato may resemble a slum

Addis Mercato may resemble a slum

You can just about anything Ethiopian here

If I am giving the impression of a place that should put you off, then I am extremely off my mark because apart from being fascinating, the Addis Mercato is a photogenic place. Addis Mercato merchants either have permanent tin shacks to house their wares or they sit on small three-legged stools and burlap mats with piles of grains, vegetables, herbs, and spice spread before them. Children work elbow-to-elbow with their adult guardians carrying the goods from wagon to stall in large baskets on their heads. Incense mingles with petrol fumes and pungent spice smells, and excrements pop here and there on the streets like unpleasant surprises. Underneath the chaos, Mercato has a careful organization with sections for each product and since there is no map for getting around the miles wide trading center, the only way to distinguish your location is to notice the product being sold. Spices, papayas, mangos, lemons, oranges, pomegranates and passion fruits, lamb, beef, carved crafts, jewellery, teff, and over one hundred coffee merchants selling their regional variety, are crammed into the narrow streets of the Addis Ketema district. Most shops kiosks deal in foodstuffs and other household goods, but there are also sections dedicated to khat, coffee, home linen, cooking utensils, souvenirs, local CDs, and traditional Ethiopian crosses.

A porter carrying utensils on his head at Addis Mercato

A porter carrying utensils on his head at Addis Mercato

Ethiopian harissa chilies

A shop from the cereals and grains section

Ethnic local cereals

available for sale at Addis Mercato.

A man selling herbs

Ethiopian cuisine uses various roots,

Fresh herbs,


Fruits, and

Vegetables for sale.

Dried herbs like parsley,

Fresh herbs like rosemary

And leafy vegetables are use

Are used in Ethiopian cuisine.

Spices for sale at the Addis mercato

Spices for sale at the Addis Ababa Mercato

Although a very interesting place

Addis Mercato is

Not an easy place to

Navigate by yourself.

A street market in Addis Ababa

A man selling local bananas in Addis Mercato

A man selling local bananas in Addis Mercato

Just keep a lookout for pick-pockets in Addis Mercato.

Just keep a lookout for pick-pockets in Addis Mercato.

Follow the rest of the Ethiopia series here