Restaurant Tour 
 
When In Eritrea, Do As The Eritreans
 
                                            by Gordon Polatnick 
  

     Only a handful of us Americans are going to make it over to Africa in this lifetime.  
     It's too scary. Too many unknowns. Too bad for us, we're probably missing out  
     on some of the best travel experiences available in this century. After hearing Africa  
     described as "the Dark Continent," at a groovy Marin party, I let my skin crawl  
     out the door and back to Haight Street for a late lunch at Massawa Restaurant--East  
     African Cuisine.  

     Having been voted, "The Boy Most Likely To Play With His Food" in college, I  
     wasn't bummed out to find no utensils on any of the dozen or so tables. I was in my  
     element, and I was hungry, and I had a cold. This led to my ordering tea, which comes  
     steeped in "spicy water." First, no forks, then "spicy water" tea--things were off to a  
     mysteriously exotic start. The tea was nice, but unless you're nursing a cold, I  
     recommend you go to town and paint it red:  

     The most rewarding flavor in this man's world for people who are chowing  
     down--Ngoma is the one beer to have--unless you'd prefer a Mamba.  

      Massawa also serves an Ethiopian honey wine called Orit-Tej. It's the  
     only sweet flavor on the menu-East African cuisine is either spicy  
     or sour or both. Don't panic over what to order. It's deceptively easy.  
     Take appetizers for instance: There's only two to choose from and  
     their both the same--that is they're both Sambusas. One is a wheat  
     flour fritter stuffed with meat ($2.25), the other one they stuff with  
     vegetables ($2.00). After one bite, you'll be discussing how to  
     package these things for your grocer's freezer. Spicy enough to  
     chase a cold, crunchy and chewy enough to bring a smile.  

     And if this is your first East African eating experience, you will be  
     in for a few more smiles before the wet nap is offered to tidy them  
     up. One smile comes from imagining the dishes known as Kitfo,  
     Kewa, Derho and Zighni. These are four of the seven meat choices  
     which include lamb, beef, chicken, and fish ($7.75--9.75). There  
     are seven vegetarian selections as well, starting at $6.50.  

     All entrees come with Injera, a flat round bread which serves  
     as your spongy spoon; Schiro, a tasty lentil stew; and a  
     salad with a remarkable Italian dressing. (Spaghetti and meat  
     sauce also mysteriously landed on the menu FOB Italy). The  
     real smile comes from seeing the printed words on your menu  
     translated into the food on your plate. My companion,  
     Citizen James, liked the way Alitcha sounded, with cubes  
     of lamb and a variety of spices. Ronald Reagan himself  
     doesn't have enough fantasy world at his grasp to  
     imagine how our dishes came served: They were lying side  
     by side on a two foot diameter tray, artistically spread out over  
     spongy Injera bread, tactically placed there to sop up the stew.  

     We were both issued Injera breads of our own and the games  
     began. Playing with my food and eating with my hands are satisfying  
     on their own merits, but when it's sanctioned by old world customs  
     and encouraged by restaurateurs, the behavior lifts me up with  
     a feeling of vindication and righteousness. How many meals this  
     week gave you that as a door prize? And the taste?  Let me quote  
     Campbell's, "MMMMMM GOOD."  

     The mysterious combination of flavors renders my vocabulary almost useless,  
     but I can tell you that my little taste buddies were doing a jig.  Let me try anyway:  
     Is it possible to say: Addictively Savory, to convey a sensation of exotic delight? I  
     also liked maneuvering around the platter with my injera, scooping up different  
     treats for each biteful: Meat, lentils, salad, stew.  

     Oh, yeah, about dessert: On your way to Ben and Jerry's (Massawa doesn't  
     serve desserts), consider the expansive nature of spongy bread as it sits in your  
     belly doing the Bounty challenge and running away with the absorption blue ribbon.  
     Unlike the proverbial effects of Chinese food, you're still pretty full after an hour.  
     So feel free to redistribute your dessert fund into your travel kitty, or hustle back  
     and get some Sambusas to stick in the fridge for later. Your little taste buddies  
     will be doing the hustle too.

 
 

 

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