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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Stick A Fork In It: Around the World in Forty Bites

A mosob plate featuring several meats, a vegetable medley, and a mesculun mix salad with injera bread.
Vanessa Cano
A mosob plate featuring several meats, a vegetable medley, and a mesculun mix salad with injera bread.

First and foremost I have to say that if you’re a picky eater do yourself the favor and don’t read this article. Stay in your pathetic, boring little kitchen and eat some Kraft cheese and forego the whirlwind adventure that is eating out. Now, for all of you who are left let’s go to Africa and have some dinner. It’s not nearly as far away as you think, a small corner of it rests in Central Square, Cambridge. Asmara is an East African, Ethiopian, and Eritrean restaurant that serves up simple and exotic cuisine that will have you saying “what a wonderful world” when you’ve finished eating it. Asmara, a quaint and comfortable restaurant, is located on Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. African artwork and crafts line the walls, making the atmosphere colorful and unique. The decor is merely an afterthought, a backdrop to what the true focus is at Asmara: wonderful traditional foods. What’s great about eating Ethiopian food is that you get to eat with your hands. The dishes are served communally on a large plate known as a mosob. The mosob is placed upon a large woven basket that stands upright like a table. The mosob will have on it a large flat pancake-like bread called injera and on top of that will be the different wotts. You also get a side of injera. The wotts can be any combination of meat or vegetables that you choose from on Asmara’s menu. Characterized by rich sauces and aromatic spices, each one is a unique culinary delight. A common ingredient among them is a spicy red pepper paste called bebere. They also use cumin, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, thyme, and cloves. What you do is manipulate the injera into a utensil to pick up the wotts and then you put it in your mouth in one bready and yummy bite. The menu at Asmara was a bit daunting because I couldn’t pronounce a lot of the things on it. So, instead of insulting the waitress with my bad accent I said, “I’ll have the special.” This was a dish called Sega Beyaynotu ($15.95). The Sega Beyaynotu was served with wotts of spiced shredded chicken, beef, lamb, and vegetables. In the middle was a mesculun mix salad and tomatoes tossed with oil and goat cheese. All wotts had different degrees of spiciness with the beef being the hottest. The chicken was served with bebere and had a creamy texture to it, not unlike Indian food, with the robust flavor of paprika as its highlight. The lamb also tasted like paprika but was spicier, and also had a slight cinnamon undertone. The vegetable wott (Hamil Gomen) was a combination of carrots, celery, cabbage, onions and red peppers. It had a gingery flavor and was very well cooked giving it the consistency of a stew. The best wott, in my humble opinion, was the beef. However, it is very American of me to enjoy the beef dish most because lamb and goat are more commonly raised on the Horn and take precedence in traditional East African cooking. Whatever, it was good. Served with jalapeños and onions, it had that creamy stew-like texture with a slight bite of goat milk in its sauce. Each wott had a unique character and yet harmonized themselves to create an interesting and delicious eating experience. I couldn’t find a single thing that I didn’t like about any of them. I found the perfect compliment to this meal to be Asmara’s authentic honey wine, Mes ($5.95). With a sweet flavor and slightly thick consistency the Mes suits the spicy and at times sour flavors of the wotts and injera. It’s also less expensive than their beer and packs a punch. After a few glasses you’ll feel like your on a different planet, not just another country! There is no desserts offered at Asmara due to the fact that traditionally there is no sweet dishes in East African cuisine. Sugar was virtually unknown there until recently and honey was used for making mead (like Mes). So, I opted instead for the Asmara tea. The tea is a soothing blend of black tea leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and honey. It’s a nice way to relax your palate and aid your digestion after a spicy meal. Asmara should be on anyone’s list as a top restaurant to eat at in the Boston area due to the sheer fact that it is so interesting and unusual. The fact that the food is delicious is the icing on the cake. The wait staff is also the nicest and most accommodating that I have encountered, and I’m not even kidding. I wanted my waitress to sit down with me and have some dinner. However, don’t take my word for it. Asmara has been residing in Central Square for 19 years and I’m sure it will be there for many more. So, expand your culinary repertoire and try something unique and delightful. Remember, you are what you eat.

Asmara 739 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. (617)864-7447. Open for lunch and dinner Sun.-Thurs. 11:30 a.m.-10:30 pm. and Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Entrees from $9.75-$13.95. E-mail the staff at [email protected] for more info. If you would like Vanessa to come to your restaurant email the Mass Media at [email protected] or [email protected]