Monday, February 14th, 2022:
Massawa: Touch, Touch, and Enjoy!

By Benjamin Ramos Rosado

New York City is full of Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, but few have the authenticity and allure of Harlem’s Massawa.  Small wooden tables, a fully stocked bar, beautiful East African art, and soft lighting, make Massawa a warm and cozy place to enjoy dinner with family or friends.  It was the perfect setting to put what I learned from the article to the test. 

It was a cold night, so I decided to start dinner with a cup of Massawa’s Special spice tea. Made from cinnamon, cardamom, and clover, this tea’s an Eritrean staple.  Usually, you drink it after a meal, but I needed to get the chill out of my bones. It was delicious; the flavor of each of those earthy and rich spices came across brilliantly.  When I added half a packet of Splenda to the tea, the hint of sweetness made it more incredible. 

Feeling warm and hungry, I looked over the appetizers (!menu) and was torn between the Beef Sambusa (Four pastry shells filled with ground beef flavored with spices) and the Vegetable Sambusa (Four pastry shells stuffed with a variety of vegetables).  I ordered the Vegetable Sambusa because it would be healthier and not too filling.

The sambusa was simple and delicious.  It contained diced carrots, spinach, and potatoes and was paired with two dipping sauces. One was a vinegar, green pepper and garlic mix and the other was Azawe, an Ethiopian/Eritrean marinade made with berbere, oil, and water or Tej (an Ethiopian honey wine).  The vinegar mixture added a wonderful hint of acid and crunchy texture to the appetizer; the Awaze was spicy, yet subtle and had an interesting earthy flavor as well.


Having sufficiently stimulated my appetite, it was time for the main event!  Divided into 6 sections, Massawa's menu is intriguing and unique (See the menu:!menu2).  Usually, I order Lamb or Beef, but I decided to break with convention and ordered seafood.  The Monk fish was prepared with rosemary, lime, garlic, and black peppers.  The Shrimp Tebsi was sautéed with tomatoes, peppers, onions and berbere.  The Shrimp Hiwas was sautéed with collard greens or cabbage.  The Shrimp dishes were all tantalizing in their own way, but I decided to order the Shrimp Combo, which combined elements of the Tebsi and Hiwa.

A small side of salad (lettuce and shredded carrots dressed with oil) accompanied the Shrimp combo.  It featured puréed chickpeas, spicy shrimp (sautéed with onions and berbere), and mild shrimp (sautéed with tomatoes, and cabbage). The entrée also come with a side of Injera, a traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean flatbread made of a calcium rich grain called Teff.  It’s used to scoop up food and to sop up sauces. Injera is soft, moist, and spongy to the touch. It also has an elastic quality to it but becomes firmer as it cools. It tastes a bit sour but is mostly bland.

The aroma of the spicy shrimp was too delicious to ignore, so I scooped some up with my bread and paired it with the pureed chickpeas.  It wasn’t easy to scoop the puree into the injera and shrimp, so instead I soaked the bread and shrimp into the puree. The chickpeas provided a rich, earthy taste to the combo.  The shrimp was delicious and intense, but the chickpeas and injera muted the flavor and made it easier to eat. The combined flavors of the injera, shrimp and chickpeas were delicious and complementary.

After dinner, my server asked me if I wanted to order dessert, I declined, but I reviewed the dessert menu, nonetheless. Massawa’s menu features the standard dessert fare such as Tiramisu, Cheesecake and Rum cake.

To be honest, I can’t prove that eating with your hands is healthier than using utensils, but I can tell you that my dining experience was different and a lot more interesting. I did feel an intimate connection to my food and had a greater awareness of portions sizes. Maybe, it was the power of suggestion or maybe not, who knows? The one thing I am certain of is that the food at Massawa is wonderful, so put down the silverware and go taste for yourself! ¡Buen Provecho! 


1239 Amsterdam Ave

New York, NY 10027

(212) 663-0505


HOURS: Daily: 11:30am-11:30pm

ATMOSPHERE: Causal and relaxed. 


SOUND LEVEL: Conversational. 


RECOMMENDED DISHES: I love the lamb, beef and seafood Sections:!menu2

BEVERAGES: Sodas, wine, missed drinks and teas ($3-$25).

PRICE RANGE: Consult the menu link:!menu2