An Ethiopian stew with the power to make you lust after lentils.

Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - DubaiA neighbourhood worthy of some serious exploration is Naif. I might have made a similar proclamation two years ago, and I still stand by those words. If Naif was not such a constantly choked drainpipe of an area and so outrageously male-dominated, I know I’d be lunching there more often. When a friend drove me in last week for a West African food run, the parking situation was so abysmal that we resigned and painfully inched our way out of the tangled road mess. As I stared out of our air-conditioned car, turban-clad labourers were dragging heavy, heavy carts through the clogged alleys, their faces shriveling up with a midday sweat and their slow laboured steps making me feel weak and dehydrated. At that moment, I lost my rights to complain about summer.

We finally pulled away from the suffocated heart of Naif and parked by a restaurant whose sign was painted in the reassuring colours of the Ethiopian flag. Naif and its surrounding areas have an incredible concentration of authentic Ethiopian food, so if you haven’t ventured out to try at least one of them during your time in Dubai, then I’ve got only two words for you: WAKE UP.

Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

Mechot’s modest façade dissolved into a surprisingly spacious two-tiered restaurant with a few sheesha patrons sprawled out upstairs. We walked in at the time of the traditional coffee ceremony, where an Ethiopian server was roasting coffee beans beside a smoky incense burner and a traditional Ethiopian coffee table.

A sweet-faced server approached us to clear any confused notions we might have had when we walked in: ‘This is an Ethiopian restaurant.’ Evidently, not many non-Ethiopians had wandered in for lunch before. A pity, because Mechot served us one of the most memorable Ethiopian meals I’ve ever had…to the point where I now irrationally inhale deeper whenever I remember Mechot, as though sour-pungent edge of the berbere spice used generously throughout our meal is still wafting about in the air.

Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

The highlight of our lunch was the Misir Wot with Meat, a sinus-clearing broth of lentils, onions and minced meat that made me race through reams of floppy fermented injera bread and wads of sniffly tissues. The aroma of the fermented injera bread mingled with the Misir Wot to give my senses a nostalgic patchwork of familiar memories: tangy pickled mangoes, mum’s meat and lentil ‘dalcha,’ melted homemade ghee drizzled over the rustic daal and rice fed to my toddler cousins in India back in the 90s.

Misir Wot - Lentil and Meat Stew - Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

You can opt for the veggie version of the Misir Wot, but the meat really does do wonders for the dish, even though you might happen upon a chewy nub of lamb every now and again.

As a break between my frantic messy bites of Misir Wot, I’d occasionally steal a charred beef strip out of the bowl of Kara Mara Tibs. My friend had ordered these extra dry, only to be eventually wetted in an irresistible berbere dipping sauce.

Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

The berbere mix used by Ethiopian restaurants contains a red chilli pepper that I’ve been desperately trying to better understand. It looks as dangerous as an Indian red chilli powder, but the only similarity is the colour. Once roasted, it tastes sour and pungent, yet doesn’t inflict the horrible chest burn that an Indian or Indonesian pepper is notorious for causing. In my quest for culinary knowledge, I’ve purchased half a kilo of Mechot’s berbere spice and squished it in the pantry between other eclectic and whimsically purchased ingredients, Persian khakisheer and a tub of Jordanian maqlouba spice to name a few.

Doro Wot, Kara Mara Tibs and Misir Wot - Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

The chicken stew with a plump tender leg and a boiled egg (Doro Wat) was somewhat side-lined, less because I am partial to the version at Habasha and more because I was completely enamoured by the Misir Wot. Maybe I’ll return to taste the Doro Wat solo, maybe paired with a mellow clump of cottage cheese (aib)…maybe after another seven visits to get over my misir wot infatuation.

On a separate note, I’ve yet to come across an inhospitable Ethiopian restaurant. There’s almost always a lady-owner at the helm and friendly servers who are willing to explain every dish to the quizzical foreign customer. I have never met a grouchy Ethopian server, ever. So in case the thought of reading a menu full of alien Ethiopian dishes and mistakenly forking through raw bloody meat is keeping you at bay, stop being a worrywart. Go out there, experiment, eat up.
(Incidentally, you could consciously request for raw meat, aka gored gored. Now you know.)

Mechot Restaurant - Ethiopian - Naif Frij Murar Baraha - Dubai

Mechot Restaurant
Phone: 0501245858
For location details, check out my Google map of restaurant hideouts.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

8 thoughts on “An Ethiopian stew with the power to make you lust after lentils.

  1. Lara says:

    I too fell in love with wat when we went to Ethiopia in 2006. I even brought heaps of berbere back with me and made it here – no injera though! Ah, GORGEOUS. Thank you for posting this. I will go with adventurous friends.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Lara, visiting Ethiopia must have been an incredible experience. It is definitely on my travel list. Would love to hear how you think Wat at Mechot stacks up against what you tried in Ethiopia, so do round up those adventurous friends and give it a taste test :)

  2. Lara says:

    Yey! Got a new friend who says she loves berbere lentils, so we’re going next week. I’ll keep you posted! :)

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Always happy to provide that pesky wake up call Sally! Let me know when you go, I’ll try to join you :)

  3. Lara says:

    We went to Mechot tonight, 7 of us. We all LOVED the food. Definitely as authentic as in Ethiopia. We gorged and left with happy full bellies. Thank you for lighting the spark for this culinary adventure.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      Lara, I’m thrilled to hear you visited Mechot and found the food authentic – now it has the seal of approval from someone’s who’s actually been to Ethiopia. Any recommended dishes beyond the ones I’ve suggested in the post?

  4. Lara says:

    Oh, yes, two actually! But I can’t remember their names. I am going again and will note down the names and share! :)


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