Ghana Be Leftovers

Ghana

Image result for ghana passport stamp

It has been quite a while since I’ve taken the culinary-passport to the African continent so today seemed like a good day to remedy that.  Mama Gee’s had been on my radar for a while and since their Ghanain cuisine isn’t something covered before they fit the bill perfectly.

Mama Gee’s is a takeout place and while they have a counter with a few stools it’s for sitting and waiting not eating.  When I walked in there were 3 other people there waiting on food and one guy running the counter.  I could see some folks in the kitchen through a window.  Overhearing the conversations of the staff and customers that came and went while I waited it was clear that the majority weren’t “from around here” and I’m guessing were from Africa.  I figured it was a good sign for authenticity of the food.  The guy working the counter was friendly and offered to answer any questions about the menu or food several times.  The first thing on the men was jollof rice which I’d already had at another African restaurant so I just moved to item 2 on the menu, waakyea plate.  It didn’t take long for them to get it together and I also picked out a drink I’ll address in a bit.  Since it was takeout I had to smell it the whole 25 minute ride home and it smelled good.

If it’s not apparent from the picture there is a ton of food in this container.  I actually weighed it because felt so full and it came in at 2 and 3/4 pounds of food.  As the title suggested there would be leftovers.  So let’s talk about what was included in this generous plate of food.  The centerpiece, covered in a tomato stew was rice and black eyed beans.  Surrounding this were a boiled egg, some gari foto (a casava root based dish), fried sweet plantains, spaghetti, more rice and beans with shito sauce and finally a fried chicken leg.

The rice, beans and tomato stew were really good and quite filling and will be good at least two more meals.  The gari foto was odd to me.  It didn’t have much taste and had the look of coarse bread crumbs but a soft consistency.  It was a starch so it fit in with half the other items.  The plantains were sweet and a nice contrast to the other foods.  I’m not sure why the spaghetti was there but the tomato sauce went well with it.  The shito sauce is the darker stuff in the top right of the picture and as I learned is made with spicy peppers.  It was not too bad on the heat front but it did get my attention.  The chicken leg had a very light coating on it and was fried enough to be done but not so much that it was dried out.

I ate until I felt full and it looked like I’d barely put a dent in the contents of that to go container.  For $10 I’m not sure I’ve had a better value while doing this blog and it was tasty as well.

Now lets talk about the drink.

They had several non-standard options to chose from and I asked what bissap was and the helpful counter guy said it had hibiscus petals, ginger and other stuff.  That sounded different enough that I had him ring one up.  Notice I went for the low sugar option because you gotta cut those calories somewhere.  In addition to the hibiscus and ginger there are “spices” and cinnamon and “flavours” on the ingredient list.  It had a floral smell and the color was a very dark purple / red color.  The taste wasn’t bad but it’s not something I want more of.  The various ingredients are distinguishable but for my palate they didn’t mesh in a pleasing way.  I’m glad I tried it but I’ll be perfectly content to never have it again, even the full sugar version.

As I was leaving the gent who I’d been dealing with made sure to give me a menu and invited me back soon.  They have some other items on the menu I might want to try in the future.

If you’re interested in the waakye or Ghanaian music and stuff check out the Tell Me More page.

 

 

Finger Food

Ethiopia

This weekend I decided it had been a while since I’d had any food from Africa and I had seen something about a new Ethiopian place opening just a few weeks ago so I took the culinary passport to Abugida Ethiopian Café.

The restaurant is in what used to be a house with 2 parking places in front and a lot of parking in the back.  There was only one car in the lot when I got there and I wondered if they might be closed but it just turned out they weren’t busy.  I walked in and there was just a guy playing with his baby at the register and he called the young lady who waited on me.  Everything was freshly painted and they have décor that let’s you know it is an African restaurant plus they play African music.  The menu is not extensive being just one page with both meat and vegetarian options but it is all ethnic so don’t expect to get the kids a chicken nugget meal.

The young lady who took my order asked if I’d had Ethiopian before to make sure I knew about injera and offered to answer any question.  I decided to go with the Doro Wet which is the spicier of the two doro dishes.

So just up front they don’t bring silverware, you eat the meal with the injera bread by tearing off a chunk and scooping up food.  I’m sure they would have brought some if requested but it’s not provided normally.  The doro wet is a chicken leg in a gravy made from herbed butter, onion, garlic, berbere spices, and other stuff and a boiled egg for good measure.  The white pile on the side is aybe, an Ethiopian homemade cottage cheese.  When she brought the plate she carefully spooned the chicken leg and egg onto the injera and covered them in the sauce and left the balance of the sauce in the little pot.  The spoon in the pot actually looked like it was made from animal horn but I didn’t confirm that.

A nice thing about this place is in addition to the injera the food is served on they also bring an extra one rolled up so you have plenty to scoop and eat with.  The chicken was very tender and the egg was suitably eggy but the sauce is where all the flavor is in this dish and it is tasty and just spicy enough that I broke a light sweat before I finished.  The aybe had a nice mild cheese taste, frankly better than any cottage cheese I’ve had from a store.  At first I was skeptical that one chicken leg and an egg were going to be sufficient to the task but I was stuffed by the time I got though and had my coffee.

This was the set up I could see across the room plus a cappuccino machine to the right that didn’t make the picture.  Honestly I expected to get some strong black coffee but that was not the deal when I agreed I wanted the Ethiopian coffee.

What happened was they came to what I thought was just a display in the corner that you see below and grabbed a cup and saucer went to the back and 10-15 minutes later I was served up a little pot of coffee plus a little brazier that had some resinous incense sprinkled on an ember.

The coffee was stronger than your average American cup of joe and while sugar was provided dairy was not part of the standard setup.  I was offered milk if needed but I declined.  I sat and enjoyed a couple of tiny cups of coffee and wondered why this place wasn’t busier.  I enjoyed the food and coffee but honestly what made the biggest impression was the people.  While I was there I had my main server but there were three other people, not counting the baby, who worked there or at least passed through the dining room and every single one of them asked if I needed anything or if they could do something for me.  Very warm and welcoming and all from Ethiopia from what I could discern.

If you don’t mind getting a little handsy with your food I’d recommend trying this place out.

In case you missed it the first time here is the Tell Me More page for Ethiopia.

Finally Made It

Liberia

This week I made it to the restaurant that was to be the subject of the first blog post but it was closed that weekend and so many months later I finally made it to Zoewee’s.

To say the outside is unremarkable would be giving it too much credit.  It sits off N. Tryon in Charlotte at the back of a parking lot among a group of buildings that are all past their prime.  When I got there just before noon two of the employees were waiting outside to be let in as well.  I thought that meant I’d be sitting for a while before they actually opened but they hit the open sign at 12:01.

The interior was basic restaurant décor with that minimalist feel.  The man who let me in was friendly and told me it would be just a few minutes while they finished opening.  The short conversation let me know he was not originally from the US so my hope for authentic Liberian cuisine was bolstered.

After just a couple of minutes a nice young lady brought me the menu.  The menu is basically a list of daily specials and there are 4-6 dishes per day on the list.  I was torn between the potato leaves and cassava leaves both with rice.  I went with the cassava leaves since I didn’t even know what a cassava was.  The waitress looked at me funny and asked if I had ever had African food before and I said a bit but was there something she thought I needed to know.  She said no but still had a skeptical look on her face as she walked away.  When she strolled up with a plate and a bowl, one with the rice and one with the cassava leaves, I suspected I was going to get my money’s worth.  OK, I was thinking the same thing you probably are seeing the pictures below, “That doesn’t look all that appetizing” or something more scatological, however just stay with me here.  My attitude adjusted quickly.

20160730_121228 20160730_121306

As she was placing the food she pointed to the small plastic container in the upper right of the pictures and said it would “add spiciness” to the dish if I wanted it.  I think this may have been why she asked if I had African food before to see if this should be a side item or not.  Well of course I needed to know what “spiciness” was so I got a little on the tine of a fork and tasted it.  Hey now!  That had a bit of heat since it was essentially hot pepper paste.  I did wind up adding most of it to the cassava leaves but that first undiluted taste was a sinus clearer.

I thought I might be eating a meat free lunch but as you can see in the second picture there was chicken liberally interspersed in the cassava and oil.  At this point I still didn’t know what a cassava leaf looked like in the wild because these were just short of pureed and liberally doused in what I’m going to assume was palm oil as I’ve since learned that is the traditional oil.  So based on what I had to work with I used the cassava leaf mixture as a gravy on the rice and dug in.

It was so much better than it looked.  It had a very earthy taste and the rice helped cut the oil and the chicken flavor was very noticeable.  The peppers brought it up another notch and improved the flavor even more.  This was not haute cuisine but it tasted good and was filling.  As suspected there was too much for me to finish so I brought some home for later which is another sign I liked it since I don’t often do leftovers.

Overall I’d say this is not a place to book your fancy party but if you want to try some interesting west African food, with a limited menu you can feel free to ask about, served by what I found to be a friendly staff this is a good option.

They don’t have a website but you can find the address searching on Google or Bing.  One thing some of the websites indicate they open at 11:00 but that’s not correct it’s 12:00 on Saturday.

Check out Tell Me More  for a recipe for Liberian greens & rice, music & more.

 

Fezzes Are Cool

Morocco

Morocco_tangier_entry

This week I took the culinary passport from Asia to North Africa and went to Ajbani Moroccan Cuisine.  Although it’s half a world away from China it’s literally across the street from the dim sum restaurant from two posts back.  They don’t serve lunch and they open at 4:00 so I had a midday snack and got there as they were opening so I’d miss any crowds.

This is primarily a take out joint with a couple of tables on the sidewalk and three more inside the door.  The bulk of the place is taken up by the open kitchen and you can see everything as they prepare it.  You order at the counter and if you are dining in they’ll bring it to your table.  While she finished setting up I checked out the menu and honestly I didn’t see much I wouldn’t like to try.  In the end I settled on a couple of appetizers; the kefta brouchettes and the hummus and falafel platter.

20160423_16214520160423_162113

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned they are primarily a take out place and the food is delivered to you that way even if you are dining in.  Turns out that’s ok because you don’t need to ask for a box for the leftovers.  My first impression was these were small portions for the price but once I started in I revised that opinion.  The kefta brouchettes are spiced ground beef and lamb meatball kebabs and came with a harissa yogurt sauce.  These meatballs were dense and filling and had a pretty good taste as is but the harissa yogurt sauce pushed them up a couple of notches.  It is a spicy sauce with pepper, garlic, cumin and coriander but the yogurt kept the spiciness in check so it was a controlled burn.  The falafels were bit different than others I’ve had.  The basic taste was the same but they were missing something for me.  The consistency was crunchy on the outside and really soft inside and at first I thought they may have been cooked on too high a heat setting but they were steaming hot in the center too.  They were good just different.  The hummus came topped with homemade tomato and pepper dip that was very tasty.  The hummus was thicker and more coarse than most of what you find in the grocery stores aisles.  It wasn’t advertised as made on site but it definitely had the consistency of homemade and it was good.  The pita is in the little bag and honestly I thought “that’s all” but had to revise my opinion again once I opened the bag.  The pita would have been better warmed but it was just sliced up pita in a bag, which honestly is logical since they specialize in takeout and it wouldn’t be warm by the time most people got it home.  I brought about half the hummus and falafel platter home and grabbed these little babies on the way out.

20160423_170631These, my friends, are tahini truffles.  The outside is puffed black rice that has a massive crunch factor and the inside is tahini and chocolate ganache together in a sweet and salty mixture that is quite nice.  They are about the size of ping pong balls and one will do you for a while.

There are some other dishes on the menu I want to try on another visit like the Berber chicken and the olive and orange salad with hazelnuts and a dressing of orange juice and spices.

Another good find as far as I’m concerned and they seem authentic.  In fact a trio came in while I was eating and were discussing the dishes with the lady behind the counter and were informed some of the food was prepared by a Berber lady.  Also one of the owners came in while I was there.  He was Moroccan but to my disappointment not wearing a fez.  He did stop at my table and ask if everything was ok and then when I was leaving he asked what I had and how I liked it.  He thanked me for coming in and made sure to ask me back.  Very friendly place and did I mention the truffles.

The link to their website is below and don’t forget to check out the Tell Me More page for more on Morocco.

http://www.ajbanirestaurant.com/

 

 

Back to Africa

 

Nigeria

Nigeria_Entry_Stamp

From the Orient I headed back west to Africa and specifically Nigeria for the restaurant this week.  I actually started out for a Liberian restaurant that turned out to be closed but thanks to the power of my smartphone, Google & Google maps I made my way to Motherland Cuisine & Market which kept it in the west African region.  I have to say I was not disappointed in the reroute.

You have to be looking for this place as the little strip it is in runs perpendicular to the The Plaza road so you won’t just stumble on it.  It is an interesting little place.  When you walk in the primary seating is at two U shaped blue counters with matching blue fixed swiveling stools that seat about 7-8 each.  There are a couple of booths against the outer wall and a couple of high tops against another wall.  I didn’t see any sign of a market but that may have been in another part of the building.

There were only two other people there eating besides me and one of them greeted me as I came in.  Nice to have the other customers welcome you.  I grabbed a seat at one of the counters and young girl came over and apparently it surprised her when I said yes I wanted a menu and would be eating lunch there.  I guess they don’t get that many guys wearing a cool green Power Ranger t-shirt with kanji all over it there.  The menu isn’t very large but they have fish, chicken, goat and vegetarian options so most people should be able to find something.  I opted for a meat pie appetizer because I was planning to try the potato greens which didn’t have meat but they were out and I opted for the goat with jollof rice and moin-moin as my side.

 

IMAG1703IMAG1704

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The meat pie was ground beef with some spices in a pastry crust.  It was good, nothing exceptional and a bit cool in the center so they could have left it in the oven a bit longer.  I had no idea exactly what jollof rice was and my options for sides included fried plantains, mixed vegetable or moin-moin.  I asked the girl what moin-moin was and she said it was like a cake but not sweet so I went with it since I know what the other two were like.  The goat was braised then stewed in a moderately spicy tomato sauce.  It was generally tender and boneless and the braised outer edges added something.  I did get a chewy hunk of what had to be goat skin and it had a good flavor but I didn’t want to devote the time it would have taken me to chew it sufficiently to digest.  The jollof rice was quite good and spicy as well.  It has tomatos and spices in it as well so if you are heat sensitive opt for the steamed rice.

For me the moin-moin was the most intriguing of the dishes.  It looked like some steam lump of cake that looks orange in the picture but was closer to pink.  The taste was familiar but I couldn’t nail down what it was aside from more pepper.  Turns out it is made from pureed black eyed peas, with red bell pepper, habanero pepper and corned beef and then the whole thing is sealed in a pack of some sort and steamed.  It was soft and moist and went well with the other two dishes.  The portions were generous enough I couldn’t eat it all.

Aside from the teenage girl who waited on me there was an older lady who I assume was doing the cooking and a teenage boy a couple of years older than the girl who came over mid-meal and told me he hoped I was really enjoying the food.  As I was paying the lady at the register she asked, with African accented English, how I liked it, thanked me for coming in and made sure I had a to go menu to take with me.  While this was going on you could hear the kids in the kitchen going back and forth about something.  The lady gave them that motherly whisper-yell thing to quiet them.  “Brother and sister?” I asked.  Head shake, sigh, nod.  So it’s a family joint with authenticity going for it.  The  streak of wins continues as far as I’m concerned.

Check out the Tell Me More link for more on the Jollof rice, did I mention it calls for ground crayfish?

Heading to Africa

Ethiopia

The winter storm we had was not going to keep me from the warmer climes of my chosen Ethiopian restaurant in Charlotte.  It did add a bit of adventure when I got to the Red Sea Restaurant and Bar and the parking lot was masquerading as an ice rink.  There were two cars in the lot and two people on the sidewalk chiseling at the ice with inadequate shovels but loads of enthusiasm.
One of the shovel wielders was the waiter of the restaurant and the only person I saw other than the Ethiopian cab driver who was lunching there as well.  That the cabby was eating there gave me hope  the food would be close to what you might expect from Ethiopia.  The walls had some African art on the walls and plenty of pictures of what I would assume is Ethiopia.  The bar of “and Bar” fame had maybe 4 stools and looked like the façade from a tiki bar in some tourist resort.
The menu was interesting with vegetarian and meat options.  I went with the Ye Beg Tebs, which was cubed lamb cooked with peppers, onions and spices.  As seen in the photo below it came with a salad, a cabbage & carrot dish and some chopped collards all atop a circle of injera bread.  I got a glass of honey wine to try as well.
IMG_20160124_121937
If you haven’t experienced Ethiopian before the way you are supposed to eat it is to tear a piece of the injera and pick up your food with it.  In addition in some cultures you only eat with one hand, typically the right as the left is considered unclean.  Judging by the cabby in the corner that held true here as well; right hand food, left hand phone.  I really didn’t get the technique of tearing and grabbing / scooping the food but the fork stayed untouched and I managed to eat until I was full. I think being just about the only person in the place made it easier dive in and not be self-conscious of eating with my hand and the inevitable messiness.
As for the food the salad lettuce and tomatoes with a drizzle of oil and vinegar.  The lamb was chewy but flavorful.  I asked for it medium heat since you never know what maximum is at a place and I don’t enjoy having so much spice my tongue gets sensitive enough to distinguish and flinch at every molecule consumed.  There was enough heat bring a sweat to the brow so it that was a win.  The cabbage and carrots had some light curry and had a bit of oil on them and they were cooked soft but no mushy.  The greens were well cooked and seasoned as well an had an almost creamy texture and no bitterness you sometimes get.  The injera was light and spongy fairly neutral in taste, as you’d probably expect for a food that is also a utensil.
The honey wine was an appealing gold color and as sweet as the name implies.  It was light and pleasant but 1 glass was plenty.
When I was obviously done the gentleman waiting on me asked if I’d like to try their coffee and I was certainly up for that.  It took a while as they brew it a cup at a time.  I honestly expected one of those kid’s tea party size cups with a strong coffee in it.  What he came back with was a full sized cup with some really strong coffee and a container of sugar.  I took that first sip after adding a little sugar and it was awesome.  He stood watching me to see how I would react and asked if it was too strong.  When I said it wasn’t we spent a bit of time talking about his first experience and disappointment at getting a cup of coffee here.  “It was like coffee flavored tea” was his impression.
Then we discussed the other more traditional table or mesob pictured below.  It is woven basket and he pointed to a picture of a hut behind me and said since they still often lived in those they didn’t have room for tables like mine and with the wicker they could easily store it up off the floor.
IMAG1671

For a first experience I’d have to say it was a nice one.  The guy was friendly and helpful without being too chatty, the food was tasty and I got to work on my one handed, no fork, eating skills.  I’d definitely recommend this place.

Here is there website.  It is kind of awful but fortunately the skill is in the food and hospitality if not in the tech.

http://www.redsearestaurant.net/

Tell Me More!