For my friend Beyza’s birthday last week, we decided to go to an Ethiopian restaurant, Awash, on the Lower East Side. We didn’t know what to expect, except that it would be spicy! And it was, but some of it was also really delicious.
Located in what seemed to be a converted basement apartment, the restaurant had a romantic dimness to it, with tablecloths covered in white linen and real roses adorning the tables. Our waitress gave us plenty of time to decide on our orders and offered her help whenever we had questions. “Anything in the red sauce is spicy,” she warned. While we perused the menu, we decided to order vegetable sambusas as our appetizer. Similar to an Indian samosa but with a flakier crust, this pastry was filled with lightly spiced vegetables (it seemed mostly to be collard greens and carrots) and came with a jalapeno-based hot sauce that we could spread on it.
For our meals, we both decided to order combination platters, which gave us the choice of two meats and three vegetables. Each platter came served atop injera, a spongy sourdough flatbread made of teff flour. Although Go Nomad says that Ethiopians eat only with their right hands, tearing the injera into pieces and dipping it into the meat and veggie options, our dining experience was significantly messier. Here’s a photo of everything I ordered in my combination:
The yemissir kik wat (at the very bottom of the photo) was split red lentils cooked in berbere–a spice mixture that usually includes “chili peppers, garlic, ginger, dried basil” and a bunch of other related spices, according to Wikipedia. This vegetarian dish had a mild flavor and a soupy consistency that I didn’t care for on its own, but that worked well when I dunked the injera into it. Next I ordered yatakilt alicha, a mixture of cabbage, carrots, and potatoes sauteed with peppers, onions, and garlic. This ended up being a blessed relief from the spiciness of all of the other options and was pretty tasty in its own right.
That brings us to my favorite dish: tibs wat. The sauce (the “wat” part of its name) was made in a pot with simmering red onions, a type of clarified butter infused with spices, and a generous helping of berbere. The meat (the “tibs”) was a sauteed beef cut into thin strips. I really enjoyed this dish because, although its spiciness made me continually reach for my glass of water, it had a really rich, deep flavor that some of the other dishes seemed to lack. The flavor filled your entire mouth, and even now I can still remember what the tibs wat tasted like.
My last two dishes were pretty similar. The first, gomen, was collard greens cooked with onions, garlic, and green peppers. It had a refreshing taste and only a mild spice compared to some of the other options. The same collard greens were in the gomen besiga, which also included cubes of lamb and a hint of cardamom. I don’t usually like lamb; however, I found the meat to be tender but not chewy, flavorful but not overpowering.
I don’t think I’ll be the restaurant’s next regular customer, but I can imagine eating this type of cuisine once every few months when I’m craving something out of the ordinary.