“REAL MEAT. REAL, FLAVORFUL MEAT.” That’s all my cohort could say, bite after bite, as we savored the tender pieces of chicken and beef sprawled before us. Once I took a taste, I was in wholehearted agreement—our icy 10 block trek down Amsterdam on the first cold night of the month had certainly not been for naught.
Approaching 106th Street at the tail end of our numbing journey, we sighted our destination: a maroon awning with white block lettering that read“AWASH” and a warmly lit interior that appeared inviting and heated. My companions and I were ushered to a spacious table, where we surveyed the prominent paintings of Ethiopian emperors on the walls and the low-hanging, wood-carved lamps with inlaid, illuminated panels of figures. We almost overlooked the small, five-stool bar hidden in the back, which blends in amidst the Jackson Pollack-style hand-painted walls. The feel was trendy but still very authentic—exotic enough to impress a date but comfortable for a group of friends. This particular night, the 60-person dining space seated a group celebrating girls’ nights out, a couple enjoying their anniversary, and a few older locals looking to escape the cold.
After placing an order that accommodated our scant college budgets, our attentive waiter, dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb, delivered a plate of steaming hand towels to the table. This was our first indication of the unique experience we were soon to encounter: eating with our hands. The prospect seemed a little daunting, but we were determined to make the most of it.
At the suggestion of our server, we ordered the “Make-Your-Own-Combo-for-2″ (portions range from 1-4 people) to create a personalized meal of two meat dishes and three vegetarian plates. We chose Tibs (tender beef cubes sautéed with Ethiopian seasoning) and Awash Chicken (tender chicken strips marinated with garlic ginger), as well as Gomen (collared greens), Shiro (spiced chick peas), and Yemsir Kik Wat (split red lentils cooked in berbere sauce). After a few minutes of chatting over the sounds of Ethiopian tunes, a large, two-foot platter was placed between us. Our dishes were carefully arranged in equal portions around the edge of the platter; everything sat on top of a large, flat, round piece of injera—a pancake-like bread made out of tef, a northern Ethiopian grass. We were then brought rolls of injera, which we tore into pieces to build mini-wraps from the platter’s ingredients.
Every bite contained the ideal intensity of bold spice and flavorful sauce, while the meat was cooked to tender, juicy perfection. The generous portions of the combination plates are large enough to stuff two people and satisfy three. “You have your happy face on,” laughed my friend as I paused to close my eyes and indulge in my complete, food-induced inner peace.
Awash offers plenty of options for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike, with its large array of specialty beef, chicken, lamb, and vegetarian items. With the cozy, humble, and welcoming atmosphere, the entire experience from hand to mouth is well worth the roughly $12 per person tab.