Welcome to Al Habasha Restaurant - first Ethiopian Restaurant in Dubai
You will indeed love Africa proclaimed an Ethiopian Airlines poster on the yellow-washed wall at Ethio al Habasha. Beside it another poster, flushed with the heart-warming image of a rich, dark Ethipian stew, read "Eat today, diet tomorrow". All wise words, i though, as I tore off a billowing flap of injera bread, plunged it into the meaty brown gravy of the alitcha menchet and lashed it greedily into mouth. Tomorrow never comes, after all. Once our eyes had adjusted to the muted light in this modestly proportioned Ethiopian restaurant, we were able to focus on a calamity of color. A patriotic assembly of red, gold and green cushions was laid out neatly along the back all beyond a row of mesob, or traditional basket tables, surrounded by bamboo seats. Opposite, there were low stools of carved dark wood with plump leather cushions resting on animal pelt floor coverings. For the conventionally inclined, there were also four glass-top tables and chairs in the window corner. Everything basket radiantly under a ceiling painted light blue and white like a cloud-skimmed sky. It was an extraordinary place to eat extraordinary food. A broad round tray was brought to our table laden with injera, a large sourdough flat bread made with teff flour, which is traditionally eaten throughout Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and parts of Sudan. The spongy, grey pancake-like blanket folded and crumpled upon itself in soft waves like surface of some undiscovered planet, and the rest of the food was served in bowls upon it. The injera was tablecloth, place mat, plate and - in the absence of any spoons or forks - cutlery, all in one. So we ripped it into handy scoop-like shreds and got stuck in. The alitcha menchet was a mild and meaty sauce with delicate nuggets of ground beef, which swamped a huge hard-boiled egg. The slowly simmered sauce had a mild, peppery taste with hints of garlic and ginger, and suggestion of sweetness that offset the slightly sour flavor of injera. Alongside it was the yebeg key wot, a spicer stew, studded with tender lamb pieces in an oily sauce. The derak tibs followed, which was a dry dish featuring morsels of sauteed lamb, onion and punchy green chillies next to saucer of pepper and mustard dip. But it was the ominously sound-ing siq sickoosh that stole the show with its rich, pepper sauce and jutting leg of lamb, which yielded soft, flavorsome meat and sumptuous marrow that just had to be sucked out of the bone. In the midst of all this great food, tomorrow was place far, far away. In need of a caffeine-kick to stave off an apres-lunch lull we ordered coffee. Called buna, the thick hot liquid was poured into thimble-stile cups via a jabana, or traditional clay coffee pot. It is then savoured strong, black and with sugar. Never mind about dieting tomorrow - with this stuff racing around our veins, we probably wouldn't sleep for a decade. But even with eyes as wide as Great Rift Valley itself, we were still able to make sketchy plans for a return visit - how about say in 24 hours? You might well already love Africa and if you have a penchant for good, traditional and homely food, thick meaty stews with a spicy kick and dining environment that's totally out of the ordinary, you will indeed love Al Habasha Restaurant.
James Brennan explores the flavours of Ethiopia and enjoys spicy stews at Ethio Al Habasha Restaurant.
The National arts&life.