Before us was a combination of dishes – a clutch of smaller delicacies orbiting around the main event, the Abesinian special agelgel. This monster arrangement was comprised of a fawn stew of chicken and hard-boiled egg, interspersed with torn shreds of injera made sodden by the meaty juices. There was a crumbling white scattering of soft cheese, a dark, rich sauce punctuated by choice morsels of pluckily spiced lamb; a fresh and piquant salad of lettuce, cucumber and tomato in a tangy lemon dressing; a sturdy mound of minced raw meat like steak tartare; and more folds of pliant injera, which was ripped from beneath it all and used to scoop everything up with. Cutlery was redundant here. Abesinian Restaurant on Somali Road is far too laid-back for the social nicety of eating with such ungainly prongs of metal as a knife and fork.
This tiny Ethiopian restaurant in the heart of Deira’s African community is where people gather around a single disc of injera the size of a cricket pitch, and dab their way through various beguiling stews or wats in a life-affirming ritual of social interaction. Here you are likely to be included in somebody else’s conversation, however impervious the cultural barrier may seem. We found that out when a deaf Yemeni man tried to tell us about his recent anatomical studies – the hand signals, high-pitched screech and maniacal giggle that accompanied his scientific musings were enough to convey his message. Indeed, a visit here is as much about filling one’s social diary as it is about filling one’s belly.
We were well and truly stuffed by the time the thick, black Ethiopian coffee – as strong and dangerous as two Mike Tysons glued together – arrived with a smouldering pot of incense. We had already added a spicy sauce as hot as the devil’s own wasabi to mouthfuls of kara mara tibs, a smouldering bowl of semi-charred lamb with onions, tomato and chilli. We’d hungrily soaked up the tangy sauce of the merek tibs, which offered bony chunks of spiced meat. We’d savoured every mouthful of the gored gored, which consisted of little more than blood-rare lamb in a spicy splash of its own juices. And we’d greedily mopped up every nugget of minced meat and every gem of soft-diced onion of the menchet abeshe, which gifted us another two boiled eggs to add to our collection.
Which is why we’ll be back to explore more authentic Ethiopian creations at Abesinian Restaurant very soon. Perhaps we’ll see you there, somewhere across the crumpled grey blankets of spongy injera.
The bill (for two)
Mineral water Dhs3
Abesinian special agelgel Dhs40
Menchet abeshe Dhs20
Kara mara tibs Dhs35
Merek tibs Dhs15
Gored gored Dhs20
Jebena buna coffee Dhs10
Total (excluding service) Dhs143