Anyone out there found yummy Ethiopian food?

After last time’s experimental attempt at Egyptian food, you’d think I was done with playing Russian Roulette at ethnic restaurants for at least a week. But when I spotted Zagol in Karama, I HAD to walk in.

Zagol had that authentic ethnic appeal that violently tugged at strings criss-crossing the massive cavernous pit of my tummy…hidden little place in Karama, traditional Ethiopian mesobs and stools, a menu with Ethiopian culinary lingo that whizzed past my head…and, Ninu, one of my super awesome readers [yes you lady, you right there, I’m pointing right at ya] had recommended it to me eons of blog posts ago.

The only difference between playing Russian Roulette at most other restaurants with foreign sounding dishes, versus over here at Zagol, was that at Zagol, it was like playing the sadistic game with a fully loaded cylinder. All six bullets, quivering with anticipation for me to take the first bite. I’ve never been wild about Ethiopian food. Not when I tried it in Philadelphia for the first time, nor the second time, nor even the blithering third time. And definitely not when I attempted to order takeout from an Ethiopian place buried somewhere on Naif Road in Deira. What was I thinking…let alone unappetizing, my aluminium wrapped Ethiopian takeout actually seemed somewhat lethal.

Still, I wanted to give Zagol a chance. There’s always that tenth time that can totally change your opinion about something – and I’m ready for my tummy to take the hit those nine times prior.

This clearly was not that life-changing tenth time.

It wasn’t all that bad. Zagol’s standard Ethiopian meal was actually a notch more flavourful and liberally salted (= a good thing in my books) and spicier than the meals I’ve attempted before, but I’d be lying if I were to say that I’d be craving this meal anytime soon. Or anytime in the distant future.

Or anytime ever.

I’m sure there are People out there who heartily appreciate the grey-brown spongy Ethiopian injera bread, landscaped with little mounds of salted cabbage, spinach (or leek?) and chicken, curried chicken, curried beef, raw beef, salad, egg curry, steamed carrots and potatoes, a central dollop of fresh homemade Iab (a close relative of cottage cheese)*…but aforementioned appreciative People were absent at my dinner table that day. The curries just didn’t work together in ways that would make me stealthily tug the injera away from my dining companions so that I could scoop up more than my fair share. On the contrary, I tried to sneakily lure them into tasting this, or that, or hey, this one’s actually pretty decent, go on, I know you’ll love it! [Muahahahahahha. Ha. HA.]

(PS –  It’s no coincidence that I’ve given little to no info on the actual names and prep styles of the Ethiopian dishes on the menu…that’s because I don’t speak Ethiopian [yay to the obvious!], and because I’d have driven the server wild had I forced her to repeat the translation of every dish so I could scrawl it down. In desperate times like these, you’ve gotta thank the cyber gods for Wikipedia links a lazy blogger’s friendly alternative to writing a well-researched article. Tibs and wat stews and kitfo and all the other stuff you were clamouring to learn about? They’re all up here on trusty Wikipedia.)

My dinner buds attempted a few bites of the veggies. There were even a few precious moments when they actually proclaimed that the carrots and potatoes and cabbage were worthy of a few additional nibbles. And then they heartlessly abandoned me. I was left all alone to polish off the rest of the Ethiopian platter under the watchful gaze of the super sweet server, who’d gone out of her way to explain the entire menu to me. She was closing in on me with that dreaded question: How’s the food?

I really should have responded with a dramatic get me a comment card woman, so I can lay bare my true emotions…confidentially…or a less dramatic mmmphhffhhhmmmff – the diplomatic stuffed mouth mutter, that to the unsuspecting, could actually be interpreted as a moan of yumminess. I really should have. But instead, I plastered a fake smile on my face and lied to the server, I lied like a coward who couldn’t confront the server’s sweet homely face, I lied like an obedient niece complimenting her aunt on the granite block of cake that she’d baked just for me, I lied from the bottom of my cratered injera clogged tummy. It’s great, really good, thank you!

Com’on, cut me some slack. It’s not like they’d have revamped the menu if I’d given negative feedback.

So here you go Ninu, this one’s for you. I had a glimmer of hope when you mentioned the place to me…and pulled the trigger on myself despite having been hopelessly hit during my previous Ethiopian attempts.

On a stupidly optimistic note, I get this feeling in my bones that one of you out there has had this earth-shatteringly fantabulous experience with Ethiopian food. I just know one of you have. For the love of God, tell me where I can find Ethiopian food that’ll hit the spot. Just point the way and make me love Ethiopian food for times to come. Save me the bullet, won’t ya?

Drive to the Pizza Hut opposite Bur Juman, take 3 rights and 1 left. Drive down the road, Zagol would be to your left.
Phone: +971 (4) 357-7740

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.

10 thoughts on “Anyone out there found yummy Ethiopian food?

  1. Ninu says:

    Okie.. I’m torn between the following emotions – awe that I actually got someone to follow my suggestion… Horror that it turned out so supremely horrid…and mirth…that I didn’t have to ingest all that awful sounding food…no offense to the Ethiopians !!! arwa !!! I’m so sorry !!! To have tortured your palate in this manner… As much as I would like to say I shall hence forth refrain from pointing out arbit hole in the wall places to you….I won’t. :D I shall continue on my path of attaining foodie nirvana thru random women’s blog posts.

  2. Nasreen Abdulla says:

    Haha good one Arwa. I’m not the kind to play Russian Roulette at all. I am a little coward who just likes to play it safe. But oh, you should meet my bold, daring husband. Will play the game and invariably end up ordering the worst dish in the restaurant. But hey dont you worry, I’m sure that elusive Ethiopian food will come your way :-)

  3. Radhika Gupta says:

    Remember when we used to go to Dhalak in Philly! Somehow Ethiopian has never done it for me…

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Ninu – no apologies needed…keep them recommendations comin my way. I iz got a tummy of steel. I live for the heat of the fiaaar ;)

      @Nasreen Abdulla – honey, you can afford to not play Russian Roulette cause you’re master chef and you create all these impossible but dang so irresistible yummies at home. If only I could cook without burning my fingers off, and make them turn out even half as awesome as yours, I doubt I would be stepping out…

      @Radhika Gupta – Ohhhhh yes! That was the name of the place! Yeah, from one foodie to another, I was never a fan of that place either. *foodie consolation hugs*

  4. Saleem says:

    Tried twice with you and no third time for me (if I have the choice) – though photos look great and tempting.

  5. chefandsteward says:

    My brother in law lives in Ethiopia with his family. I think I should ask their opinion of the food. Even though as far as I know it, they cook their own Jamaican dishes there. We may visit them some time though….

  6. Tasmeea says:

    Wow! Sounds interesting, will think about checking the place out!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Saleem – I think you’ve done your time dad, no more bullets for you…I’m venturing out all alone on this one (gulp…any willing foodie adventurers, wanna join a lone soul…?)

      @chefandsteward – Really? sweeeet, do that and lemme know. I need expert guidance, gotta stop futzing around until I can get some proper info on what to order. If you do visit, I will harass you for detailed dish-by-dish account of meal times…you have been warned.

      @Tasmeea – you’re the first to feel inspired to actually check this place out, yay! I don’t wanna turn people away, I just want to know how to order correctly…tell me if you uncover gold when you go there Tasmeea.

  7. simeon says:

    there is a great place by the wharfage in deira, al habasha. i love injeera et al. their food was better than zagol for sure. this deira place does a great dish of meat and potatoes, al habasha special 2, according to the online menu, which i reckon is the best introduction to the cuisine for unfamiliar palates.

  8. Matt N says:

    Ethiopian food is awesome, I think you went to a) the wrong place, and b) with the wrong people. Its a very communal style dinner, its even normal to feed each other. There is also a knack for learning how to handle the injera and scooping up the different flavors. You should try this recipe out and substitute the injera for rice, and cut the amount of dried pepper flakes in half. Really great flavors!


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