Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be moving to a foreign country to live, let alone a country in the Middle East. Over the 2009 Christmas and New Year’s holidays, my husband Roger and I discussed what we wanted the next part of our life to be like. He thought that before retiring, he would like to do one more airport project but only if he could find something very interesting. I half-jokingly agreed that would be fine but could he try for an exotic location? As usual, Roger came through and soon we were headed to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. This blog is a recap of our "leap-of- faith" wanderings around the Middle East and beyond. We joyfully share these expat experiences.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On the Streets of Abu Dhabi . . . . Ethiopian food at its best!

What do new friends do? We do lunch! Oh, but not just any ordinary lunch, we need something exotic and enticing. 

My new Abu Dhabi friend, American expat Valerie Enger, and I are on the prowl.  The choices are endless in this international city of Abu Dhabi – Indian, Thai, Chinese, Lebanese, Egyptian - you name a country and I venture Abu Dhabi has a restaurant operated by someone from there.

We settle on Ethiopian cuisine as Valerie has never tried it and I love it and I am eager to find a good one in my new city.  

Tucked in a far corner of the Tourist Club neighborhood is Bonna Anne - a slender slice of Ethiopia. This unassuming jewel serves authentic Ethiopian food as testified by the steady stream of Ethiopians eating there. Here we prove the thesis that if you really want to eat the best ethnic food find out where the natives go.

The small store front restaurant, simply furnished with black wicker tables and chairs, seats about 30. Valerie and I sense our presence may be a bit peculiar as the other diners, all Ethiopian men, keep staring at us. When I make eye contact, they just give me one of those blazing Ethiopian smiles and turn back to their meal.  We surmise that not too many older white women frequent this establishment. Oh, here come two veiled Muslim women – but they take a table in the rear corner and sit with their backs to the other diners.

This is what a mesab looks like
Bonna Anne certainly did not spend much Birr, Ethiopian currency, on the décor. Only a few worn African decorative touches are scattered around the room.

Sadly missing is the colorful mesab, a handmade hourglass shaped wicker basket with a cone top that is used as a table to serve the meal. This is rather like a Chinese restaurant without chopsticks.   

Ethiopia, once ruled by the Queen of Sheba, is the oldest independent country in Africa and one who claims to have discovered the coffee bean.  The country boasts that is has the spiciest chili-peppered food in all of Africa.  Thankfully at the Bonna Anne you can choose your degree of “heat.”

Elda shows us how injer is made
The menu is a bit daunting but Elda, our helpful waitress, takes us under her wing and suggests we order the Bonna Anne Special – a selection of wats, meat and vegetables stews, so we can have a taste of several savory items on the menu. Brilliant choice! 

Dining Ethiopian is an intimate experience. The meal is eaten communal style from a single platter placed in the middle of the table with no cutlery offered.  Injer, the unleavened bread that is the base of the meal, is torn into pieces and used as a scoop to eat the various dishes. For sanitary reasons, you eat using only your right hand. 

Injer, made from teff flour, a species of lovegrass (similar to millet and quinoa), is only found in the northern Ethiopian high lands. Prepared today in the same way it has been for thousands of years – it takes 4 days to ferment - this dull grey colored bread looks like a piece of old flannel and has a sponge like texture. Despite its insipid appearance, it provides a brilliant foil to the expertly spiced wats.


Our Bonna Anne Special arrives with a flourish. Elda brings a tray of single dishes of wats and a large flat basket holding the injer. She proceeds to tell us what each one is as she places them artistically on the bread.

Valerie and I have opted for the mildly spiced variety and are not disappointed. Even at this safe temperature the spices and flavors come through clear and crisp.

Our special includes:
  • keywet, beef stew with diced onions, tomato, garlic and Ethiopian chili powder;   
  • minchet, minced beef sautéed in Bonna Anne special sauce with onions, tomato, pepper and Ethiopian butter;
  • lamb tib, lamb stewed with Ethiopian spices and Bonna Anne special sauce;
  • meser be sega, spiced lentils and ground meat stewed in a rich berber sauce, onion, garlic, ginger and Ethiopian butter;
  •  bosena shiro, ground chickpeas and ground meat simmered in Bonna Anne special sauce and spiced with Ethiopian butter; 
  •  and pickled cabbage.
I think you can see the secret ingredient here is Bonna Anne’s special sauce.

It takes us both a few tries to master using the injer as the eating utensil. We break off pieces and scoop up a selection of wat. The spongy texture is just perfect for soaking up the savory juices. The wats all have a minced texture, except the lamb tib which has larger tender chunks of meat. Each wat has a slightly different zing depending on the combination of seasonings used.  The fiery spices bring just the right amount of fire to our taste buds; the pickled cabbage provides relief if it gets too hot; and the injer just makes it all taste succulently earthy. 

We finish our meal with the most exquisite Ethiopian coffee served in a small black pot accompanied by popcorn and incense. The deep deep dark thick coffee has a surprisingly gentle taste that lingers on your palate and beckons you to sip more. I, who only drink coffee once in a while at breakfast, enjoy three of the tiny cups.

Valerie and I agree that sharing the experience of a cultural meal is a great way of bonding with new friends.  On the way home she takes me by a small Indian restaurant she recommends I try while she is back in the USA for the summer. She promises it will be another one-of-a-kind tribal experience.  India here I come!

Bonna Anne
Tourist Club area of Abu Dhabi off Abu Hail Street
Phone: 02 491 2128
Price: Cheap Eat!

Postcript . . .

For my Dubai friends  . . . . Thanks to Arva and her Frying PanAdventures I can recommend a great Ethiopian restaurant for you to try. There are several branches of  Al Habash. We went to the one tucked into the Hor Al Anz neighborhood north of Diera.  Here your meal is served on a mesab and tastes divine. Recommend you try the Doro Wat, a sizzling hot chicken stew.    

8 comments:

  1. This sounds wonderful. I think I will come visit so we can eat there.

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  2. Hope you will visit . . . I have many more places to explore!

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  3. I was dreaming to stay on that hotel when I am in Dubai before, but I had no enough time to spend.

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  4. Yummy, Katie! Great adventure. Looks delicious.

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