Africa is much more than the one or two news stories dominating recent media coverage. This vast continent of astonishing natural wonders, exotic flora and fauna and abundant mineral and natural resources reserves in the hundreds of years is home to beautiful, caring, loveable African people stretching from the Berbers in Algeria all the way to the Shona in Zimbabwe. Africa, being the cradle of humankind, knows, oh so well, about basic human needs: family, shelter, education, health and food. It’s with the latter where Africa shines. This continent boasts some of the planet’s oldest, boldest and simply delicious cuisines. However, that culinary light mostly shines inward and loved by those natives, expats and other transplants of and visitors to African countries who know and love the array of dishes, quaffs and snacks cooked up in villages, urban homes and on city streets.
Many Americans who may have never lived in or visited China, Mexico, Italy, France and/or Thailand can, however, pretty easily name a few of the dishes native to these countries and then describe in depth which ones are their favorites. Though, when it comes to the amazingly diverse list of meals, dishes and food products native to 54 African nations, most Americans would be at a loss to name one type of cuisine, much less a specific dish or even their favorite. Now, the exceptions to this rather sad commentary are the minority of Americans who have visited, lived in, worked, served as Peace Corps volunteers or with other organizations in Africa or whose families emigrated from African countries.
Now it’s time for Africa’s culinary light to shine brighter and be better known here in the US. The call to action is for more Americans to brave those exhaustingly long flights to various points in Africa and partake in the local fare, spices and culinary lore. But if it isn’t quite possible to travel to Africa, then one has to enjoy some of the cuisines of the continent that have travelled out of Africa and to America. So, one could quip, if the bees can’t get to the hive, then the hive must come to the bees. African Cuisine from all over the continent is now found throughout the US. Certainly some of the hotbed regions, San Francisco Bay Area, Greater Washington DC, NYC and Metro Atlanta, are abuzz with various local African restaurants, nightclubs and bars where one can eat the national dish of Ethiopia, munch on South African biltong and gulp Senegalese bissap.
In the San Francisco Bay Area:
- Bissap Baobab has been a Mission District stronghold since 1996 and has opened many tastes buds and minds to the savory, succulent flavors of Senegal and West Africa. Also, its sister restaurant is just around the corner, Little Baobab.
- Pam and Wendy started this Amawele’s South African Kitchen as a tribute to their beloved South African and aptly chose the name “Amawele” which is the Zulu word for “twins”.
- Radio Africa & Kitchen’s Chef Eskender Aseged, a native of Ethiopia, he opened Radio Africa in the San Francisco Bayview District in 2012. A rotating menu of market-fresh, health-conscious Ethiopian cuisine stars at this intimate eatery.
- At New Eritrea Restaurant & Bar, Eritrean & Ethiopian cuisine served in this Sunset District restaurant/bar with their hands while drinkers sit at the long bar.
- Axum Cafe is an Ethiopian restaurant serving East African cuisine on Haight Street. It’s self-proclaimed as “the best kept secret in San Francisco”.
In the Greater Washington, DC Area:
- Nandos: South African Cuisine restaurant chain with 20 Locations in Washington DC, Maryland & Virginia. It states that “once you’ve had their peri-peri chicken, it’s hard to look back”. Checkout Nandos’ rather controversial TV commercial.
- Bukom Cafe serves West African cuisine including kenkey, gari, jollof rice, okra soup, fufu, egusi soup, chicken yassa, moi-moi and more.
- Ghana Cafe is located in DC’s Adams Morgan area and is a favorite among locals, professionals and students. A variety of stews—including chicken, beef, goat and seafood—are served with rice.
In New York City:
- Africa Kiné is located in Harlem’s Little Senegal district. There is exotic food from Senegal along with the music and ambiance of its capital Dakar. Great place to practice your French!
- Braai in Hell’s Kitchen strives to bring the very best of South African and motherland to the Big Apple. It serves up boerewors, slapchips and ostrich benedict. Just 100 meters away is their other establishment, Xai Xai the first South African focused wine bar.
- Ghenet is an Ethiopian restaurant in Brooklyn with dishes such as injera and kategna (injera spread with berbere), kitfo (steak tartare), a lemony salad, a variety of watts (stews) made with meats and vegetables, and tej, or honey wine.
In the Metro Atlanta Area:
- Imperial Fez is authentic Moroccan cuisine inspired by Rafih Benjelloun’s family tradition and offers traditional food from North Africa in an exotic dining environment. There’s daily belly dancing.
- 10 Degrees South is a sexy, sophisticated environment, inspired by Cape Town and deluxe safari lodges but unlike any other place on the planet. It has exotic flavors of French, Portuguese, German, Malaysian, Dutch, Indian and Mediterranean fused dishes.
- Queen Of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant is nestled in the heart of Atlanta and specializes in delivering authentic Ethiopian food within a traditional setting.
Please share in the comments section below some of your own local places to find African cuisine here in the US.
We know so much about the European food story, and we’re getting to know about the American food story; but we know so little about the African food story. Marcus Samuelsson