Celebrating all aspects of our island lifestyles, Island Dreams recently did a recording in Cross Roads' Regent Plaza at a premises now known as Africa Town because of its two restaurants. Vibes Cuisine tagged along for its special culinary experience.
Café Africa followed Veggie Meals on Wheels to what used to be an empty lot. Now transformed by mobile kitchens, lush greenery and rustic seating, the side-by-side restaurants offer a cool, leafy eating oasis in the city's hub.
"Café Africa is really the evolution of Marcus Garvey's UNIA," explained proprietor/executive chef Steven Golding, who is also the association's president.
He told us that Garvey's African Communities League opened its UNIA Restaurant, serving Caribbean food in Harlem in 1919. Present day, the UNIA in Jamaica is working on resurrecting the business models of Garvey, thus the Africa Town eateries.
Golding and his wife, Emprezz, took Garvey's concept even further, deciding to serve authentic African cuisine at their funky, outdoor café with nuances of the Motherland, including Adinkra-symbol tabletops (crafted by Steven), images of African kings and queens, bamboo galore and calabashes. In fact, if you can name all the leaders featured on the mobile kitchen's wall, you get a free meal.
"Café Africa is a space for knowledge. The basic essentials for life are food and education," said our hostess.
With 54 African states and various cuisines within each, Steven composed a 25-item menu with selections from each region of the great continent. Chef Prince Ohia of Nigeria efficiently turns out the assortment of beef, chicken, fish and vegetable dishes from the tiny trailer kitchen. Produce and ingredients Jamaicans are familiar with are used, just in different, more delicious and healthier ways.
Take the fufu, for example. This pounded cassava West African staple is used as a scoop for various stews as your meal is meant to be enjoyed cutlery free. Your hands are washed table-side before and after you dine. The etiquette for eating with your fingers is well explained and adds charm to this adventure.
Kimberley, the Island Dreams crew and Vibes enjoy a feast of piri piri wings (appetisers from Mozambique) with ndizi (banana fries with lime from Tanzania) followed by dongo-dongo (the Congolese origin of gumbo - salt fish and okra), m'chicha (East African-style callaloo with peanut) enjoyed with fufu.
Another main dish enjoyed was the domodah (Gambia's national dish of beef fillet in peanut tomato sauce), wali wa nazi (Tanzanian yellow coconut rice) with kachumbari (Kenyan spicy tomato salad).
The beverages are also entrepreneurial ventures, the sparkling TEJ-Café Africa's in-house Ethiopian-styled honey wine, brewed courtesy of Jamaican bees, and the restaurant's WOHA or bottled water. Both can be purchased to enjoy at home.
DEFINITELY A WINNER
The meal culminates with an amazing creation concocted due to Emprezz's pregnancy cravings. Her hubby was sceptical about her desire for sugar cane and chocolate sauce, but soon his taste buds convinced him it would be a winner on the menu.
From the laid-back-yet-charming atmosphere to the cultural stimulation and satisfaction in one's belly, the entire endeavor is great, not to mention long overdue, for a nation with a populace of 90 per cent African descendants.
Café Africa keeps various special events, including a dinner club and movie nights.
Check it out on Facebook. It is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, delivery and even catering services.
Emprezz shares that their coffee ceremony is a great option for hostesses wanting something bespoke for their dinner parties.
Steven has kindly shared a few of Café Africa dishes to prepare at home, but be sure to visit and enjoy the experience first-hand.
Domoda (or domodah) is Gambia's national dish of groundnut stew. In its simplest versions, made without meat, it is basically meat cooked in a peanut sauce.
1lb beef fillet, cut into thin strips
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
A few tomatoes or canned tomatoes Tomato paste or tomato sauce
1 Scotch bonnet pepper, cleaned and chopped
1-2 cups peanut butter (natural and unsweetened) or homemade peanut paste
Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper or red pepper (to taste)
1. Heat oil in a large pot. Brown the meat and onions.
2. Add all remaining ingredients, except peanut butter. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until everything is done (about 20 minutes).
3. Stir in the peanut butter. Continue to simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring often.
4. Adjust seasoning. When the Domoda is done, some of the oil from the peanut butter will separate and float to the top. It may be partially removed, if desired.
Steven's Tip: Serve with boiled rice.
Dongo-dongo is another example of an African dish that is both a sauce and a soup. It is sometimes made with fish, and sometimes with meat, but always with okra. Given that gombo or gumbo is the most common central African name for okra, and that dongo-dongo is basically an okra soup, it seems likely that this recipe is a distant African relation of the famous Cajun-Creole Gumbo of Louisiana.
Oil to sauté
2 onions, cleaned and finely chopped
1 or 2 Scotch bonnet peppers, cleaned and finely chopped
20 or more okra, ends removed, cleaned, and chopped [when using okra, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it becomes]
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 or 2 season cubes
Any amount of dried, salted, or smoked fish, cleaned and rinsed (use a little just as a flavoring, or enough for everyone to have a serving)
A pinch of baking soda - or - 1 can tomato paste (optional)
1. Heat oil in a deep pot. Sauté onions and garlic for a few minutes.
2. Add a seasoning cube if you wish, okra, and peppers. Cook for several minutes.
3. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and add fish.
4. If desired, add the baking soda (for a gooey sauce) or the tomato paste (for a red sauce). Simmer until the okra and fish are tender.
Steven's tip: Dongo-dongo is usually served with a starch such as fufu.
East African 'Greens & Groundnuts'
The addition of chopped peanuts to the callaloo gives it a delightful crunchiness, the grated coconut an unexpected flavour.
2oz vegetable oil
2 bundles callaloo, chopped and cleaned
1/2 cup grated coconut
1/2 cup peanuts chopped finely
1. In a two-quart saucepan, heat 2oz vegetable oil and add callaloo.
2. Add peanuts and coconut.
3. Toss lightly until ingredients are combined, heated through, and all liquid is absorbed.4. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper.