Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nigeria: mittendrin

Nigerian food (or African food for that matter) has yet to become trendy. Every now and then someone predicts that it is about to conquer our culinary shores, but so far it hasn't and I don't see it happening anytime soon. It's too bad because the dishes (admittedly a very tiny sample) we enjoyed at Ebe-Ano were really delicious. Of all the cuisines I've tried in the name of this little project here, I've been the most surprised (and mostly pleasantly so) by the African ones. Now that the Royal Aerostar Berlin is "closed until further notice," Ebe-Ano (much more centrally located, I might add) is at the top of my list of places I would definitely go back to and wish more people would check out. The menu is divided into rice and yam dishes - referring to which carb accompanies the dish. Yam is actually a dumpling of sorts made from white yam or manioc flour (along the lines of fufu), basically a big ball of gluey starch. From the yam side of the menu, we shared an okra stew, which was flavored with dried fish (a major seasoning in Nigerian cuisine, similar to the way ham flavors many vegetable or bean dishes in Spain) - not a combination western diners are likely familiar with, but it really works. Nigerians would have pulled off pieces of the dumpling and used it scoop up the stew (we were provided with a bowl of water for cleaning our fingers), but not being practiced and with nobody in sight to copy, we used the utensils also provided. Our second dish was recommended by the waitress and although it is vaguely described on the menu as something like vegetables and rice, it was our favorite. The vegetable seemed to be mostly spinach, though perhaps this changes based on season or availability, and was also flavored with dried fish - again delicious. For some of the dishes, you can choose to add a piece of meat or fish and here we added fish (hake maybe?), which was cooked to a tender, golden and crispy perfection. Like at Royal Aerostar, the food is served with a hot sauce - it has a great, fruity flavor, but is hot hot hot. Ordering a Nigerian Star lager is therefore essential and delicious. In addition to good, interesting food at very reasonable prices, Berlin's African restaurants, Ebe-Ano included, seem to function as community centers of a sort for expats from the respective countries. At Ebe-Ano a group of men was hanging outside on a warm evening yelling good-naturedly at neighborhood kids. Other places have had computers for skype calls home, electronic game machines, and televisions tuned to a national station. These things are in addition to a meal that tastes for most of the clientele, I presume/hope, like home. As Berlin's trendsetters have yet to declare Nigerian (or African) food cool, the cooks are cooking for their countryfolk. They'll likely warn you that the hot sauce is really spicy, but you'll get the same food as everyone else. You won't be able to order a mango lassi or a swimming pool cocktail and they probably haven't spent much money decorating, but you will get a tiny glimpse into another world. I've eaten in these trendy places in Mitte (not only there, but things seem particularly bad in certain Bezirks) - the food costs more and tastes like less and you generally get a glimpse of other people who look just like you. Ebe-Ano Pohlstrasse 52

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