First Bite

Devour the Soups and Fish at Newcomer Taste Of Nigeria

Flavors from across the country pack this menu, and there are already fans.

By Joanna O'Leary February 15, 2019

Ever since interviewing Ope Amosu about his nascent restaurant concept, I have been obsessed with West African food. Give me all the egusi soup, Scotch eggs, and fufu, please.

Thus, when I drove past a soon-to-be-opened restaurant on Richmond promising “Fine African Dining” I immediately decreased my speed and commenced rubber-necking (probably much to the extreme annoyance of those behind me).

Taste of Nigeria, the restaurant that so captured my attention at 5959 Richmond Ave., is now up and running and on a recent Sunday offered patrons 50 percent off the entire menu as part of an opening promotion.

Hoping to engage in some discount dining during a low-traffic time slot, I moseyed over to Taste of Nigeria around 2:30 p.m. I soon learned that when a hot new African restaurant opens in a city that boasts the largest Nigerian expatriate community in the country, there is no such thing as “off-peak hours.” Every table was taken in the relatively cozy dining room and a line was just beginning to form outside the door. Fortunately, being by my lonesome enabled me to snag a seat at the bar, where I ordered way too much/just enough food depending on whether you consider gluttony a vice or virtue, respectively.

Unfortunately, my first choice in protein (goat) was not available that day, so I would have to postpone sampling isi ewu (goat head stew) for another day.

Instead I ordered a croaker, which arrived whole and in a red pepper and onion sauce. That treatment transformed the otherwise tame-tasting whitefish such that the piscine flesh became highly peppery and bright with acidity. My lips tingled pleasantly as I stripped the bones of every last morsel and my heart pounded with pleasure. A side of sunny orange jollof rice complemented the fiery fish with milder tomato umami-curry notes.

My second entrée (no shame here) was the beef, which came with a choice of two soups and one “swallow” (i.e., starch). Upon the recommendation of my server, I selected the banga, soup familiar to Urhobo people in Nigeria and made with palm nut oil, dried crayfish, and beef, and the ewedu soup, a dark green broth coaxed from pounded jute leaves, and a dish popular among the Yoruba tribe. The beef chunks were disappointing for their tough, stringy texture that most likely resulted from excessive stewing. Fortunately, I was sufficiently distracted by the nutty flavors of the fragrant banga, which I sponged up with my choice of swallow, a massive ball of supple yielding fufu (pounded yam). 

There's a lot to like about Taste of Nigeria, and I'm looking forward to further appreciating the nuances of the dishes as I learn more about Nigerian and West African cuisine. Until then, take it from the customers dining around me during that Sunday afternoon: I could hear a lot of ambient mmms and oohs.

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