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About Philipos Mengistu and Queen of Sheba, Traditional Ethiopian Restaurant in New York

Philipos Mengistu gained his first culinary experience at the restaurant his parents operated in Addis Abeba in the early 1970’s. Philipos used to spend much of his time behind the scenes in the restaurant kitchen. He watched his mother intently over the years, learning recipes that had been passed from generation to generation through the family lineage, and picking up his mother’s expertise. One area being in blending her own version of berbere, a hot sauce common in much of the Ethiopian cuisine.

Philipos moved to the United States in 1990, with the concept of introducing New York City to Ethiopian food. As he scouted locations and saved money for his first business in the US, he worked as an aircraft technician for Ethiopian Airways and a Yellow Cab driver.

Philipos opened his first restaurant, ‘Meskerem Ethiopian Restaurant’, with two partners in 1995. Meskerem was a success, receiving positive reviews from the New York Times and the Daily News, among others.

In 1999, Philipos launched plans to run his own restaurant, this time with the aim of focusing specifically on his family’s recipes and creating a warm and cozy environment, surrounded by traditional Ethiopian decor. He spent a year scouting the ideal venue and perfecting the ingredients of his new menu, as well as arranging to import berbere directly from his own mother in Ethiopia, using only her recipe.

The Legend of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon

The Legend of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon is one of great mythopoeic power that has infiltrated numerous cultures outside Ethiopia. The earliest version is preserved in two books of the Old Testament. Here we are told that the Queen of Sheba as a child called Makeda, lured by Solomon’s fame, journeyed to Jerusalem with a great caravan of costly presents and there “communed with him all that was in her heart”. King Solomon, for his part, “gave to the Queen of Sheba all her desire… So she turned and went to her own land, she and her servants.”

Queen ShebaEthiopians locate Sheba in Axum, from here, according to the Kebra Nagast, she was persuaded to travel to the court of Solomon by the head of her caravans – a man much impressed by the King’s wisdom and might. In Jerusalem a banquet of specially seasoned meat was given in her honor and, at the end of the evening, Solomon invited her to spend the night in his chambers. Sheba agreed, but first extracted a commitment from the King that he would not take her by force. To this he assented, on the single condition that the Queen make a promise not to take anything in his house. Solomon then mounted his bed on one side of the chamber and had the Queen’s bed prepared at the other side, placing near it a bowl of water. Made thirsty by the seasoned food, Sheba soon awoke, arose and drank the water. At this Point Solomon That night the King dreamtseized her hand and accused her of having broken her oath; he then – “worked his will with her”.

That night the King dreamt that a brilliant light, the divine presence, had left Israel. Shortly afterwards the Queen departed and returned to her country and there, nine months and five days later, she gave birth to a son – Menelik, the founder of Ethiopia’s Solomon dynasty.