Best of International Houston: Nigeria
Population in Houston: 20,000 (the 2nd largest Nigerian population in the country)
“Fried plantain is one of the staples across the Nigerian diaspora. That’s my equivalent of comfort food. Even when I go to a Cuban restaurant I’m inclined to order any dish with fried plantain on the plate.” –Deji Osinulu, photographer
Finger Licking Restaurant
9811 Bissonnet St., 713-270-7070, fingerlickingrestaurants.com
This Nigerian chain restaurant opened its first American location in a former Bennigan’s, but don’t let that stop you. The menu boasts a thoroughly traditional take on West African cuisine, with pepper soup and dishes like egusi that are designed to be eaten with fufu (a starchy ball of dough made from pounded yam flour) and, of course, your fingers.
House on the Word
13950 Schiller Rd., 281-766-0000, houseontheword.org
According to Elias Bongmba, professor of religious studies at Rice, more than 25 African-initiated churches have sprung up in Houston since the 1980s, over half of them boasting a congregation that’s predominantly Nigerian. House on the Word is one of many that incorporate traditional African culture into worship through music, dance and language.
7447 Harwin Dr., 713-298-6604, instagram.com/kemilandfabrics
Kemi Olawale’s store specializes in brightly hued lace, laser-cut sequined guipure and patterned chiffon fabrics that can be turned into everyday fashions or transformed into aso ebi, the coordinated outfits traditionally worn by friends and family at weddings and other big events.
It’s easy to spot a Nigerian woman at a fancy event—she’s usually sporting a gele, an elaborate headwrap that creates a stunning halo of fabric around the head. What’s less easy is tying the gele, which is where Mr. Gele (full name Hakeem Oluwasegun Olaleye) comes in. He’s considered a crucial hire for weddings and other events; no one else in town shapes the folds and pleats of a gele like this guy, or in as little time (five minutes?!).
11611 W Airport Blvd., 281-265-1411, suyahut.com
The specialty of the house, suya, is basically spicy meat on a stick, the Nigerian version of a shish kebab, and the restaurant is popular for both catering and to-go orders. Call ahead and don’t be afraid to settle in while you wait, like the older gents who can often be found playing dominos at Suya’s tables.
16203 Westheimer Rd. Suite 106, 832-230-3893, facebook.com/WazobiaMarketAfricanFoodStore
The aromas wafting from the kitchen hit you as soon as you enter this well-maintained African and Caribbean grocery store, which in addition to hot, ready-to-eat dishes like suya, stocks a wide swath of fresh and packaged foods for lovers of Nigerian cuisine, from plantains and ugu (fluted pumpkin leaves) to Nigerian-made Maltina beer, plus movies, magazines and beauty products.