You might know that Ethiopians fast for 40 days prior to Christmas; a period of abstinence broken daily by a platter of vegan dishes. You might not know that these dishes are available at Gursha, on the Palm Jumeirah’s Club Vista Mare.
Slipped in at the end of a row of restaurants, Gursha – ‘mouthful’ in Amharic – provides an authentic hit of Ethiopian cuisine. Our waiter, Addis (“like our capital city”, he proudly proclaims) serves us with grace, knowledge and is quick to make recommendations based on his own preferences.
The menu features traditional Ethiopian meat dishes – dominated by a variety of cubed beef dishes – the section of aforementioned vegan fare, and a section entitled ‘Ferenji Style’ (foreigner), which includes their take on seabass, steak, and lamb. All are served as small dishes, designed to share. African tapas, if you will.
The most popular dish, we are told, is the ‘Taste of Ethiopia’ platter – a selection of each of the vegan items which locals eat daily during that fasting period.
There’s no hidden vegan food agenda here, though – just tasty food, served well.
Fast service means we are presented with our choice of three starters shortly after we’ve taken in the surroundings – cool art and carpets hanging from the ceiling, music with a reggae bent and warm, welcoming furniture. We opt to sit outside, though, enjoying the remnants of the cooler weather and the ocean view, bathed under strings of twinkling white bulbs.
Azifa, qatenga and buticha bites arrive, and we like the presentation. Injera is the ubiquitous bread served with everything Ethiopian. Think the gooey centre of a Sri Lankan hopper, mixed with a pancake. They are made with teff flour, and are spongey, vinegary and delicious.
Here, injera bread is rolled, mixed with a herby butter and a spiced mint yogurt, to make qategna. Unusual texture, with a slight spicy punch, this is three mouthfuls we’d already come back for.
Buticha bites should be adopted into Middle Eastern cuisine quickly. Described as deep-fried chickpea balls, we were expecting something like a falafel. But these rounds are filled with a smooth, silky paste, like a gooey, tomatoey hummus, and served drizzled with coriander and lemon yoghurt, atop a rustic tomato sauce. Comfort food, perfect as a snack, and extremely moreish. Buticha is a spiced chickpea spread, served with a lot of traditional meat dishes. It’s good to see this modern twist, and we want the recipe.
Azifa, the lentil salad, also had a good zing to it, but was the least exciting of the starters. A cold lentil ‘mush’, the grey tone and texture was a little off-putting. Yet the flavour still won us over.
While menu highlights include the famous dish, doro wat (chicken curry and eggs), we thought we’d get truly down with the vibe and go for the “Taste of Ethiopia” platter.
It turned out to be a dish fit for royalty. Served on an injera-bedecked plate which nearly swamped our two-seater table, this is like a thali without the annoying little silver pots. The bread acts as plate and cutlery. We were offered cutlery, but went for the true visceral experience of digging in by hand, using the spongey bread to mop up the morsels.
Shiro is a dark, delicious chickpea stew. Onions, tomatoes, garlic and Ethiopian chili-based spice (Berbere) are the norm for this concoction, but we didn’t ask, we just devoured. Tikel gomen was a generous serving of almost luminous yellow cabbage, carrot and potato, while gomen is a bang-on-trend (though millennia old in Ethiopian cuisine) kale dish which was gone in seconds.
Kik alecha and misir were both very similar to daal – red and yellow, with the red version packing a more smoky, chili punch. Fosolia was a blend of stir-fried string beans, carrots and onions, while the star of the platter for us – at least, for its unusual, salty, tangy taste, was the suf fitfit. Nice to say, better to eat, this is injera (again) in a sunflower gravy, served mixed with fresh chopped tomato and a vinegary, lemony twang.
Desserts include teff and banana fritters, which were a delight. Crunchy, warm and not too sweet or heavy, while a healthy fruit platter rounded off the meal beautifully.
If you’re fairly new to Ethiopian cuisine, like we are, you’ve been missing out. It’s healthy (teff flour is considered one of the world’s healthiest carbs, and is also gluten-free), a little different and weaves Indian and Arabic influences into its own delicious food. Give it a try – you may well see us there.
Gursha, Club Vista Mare, Palm Jumeirah.
Call 04 5542665