In mid-July, I received an intriguing invite: "Every third Saturday of the month," it read, "come have an indigenous affluent African experience at the Airplane Restaurant."
Intriguing, because I had no idea the Airplane Restaurant served African food (it actually doesn't) or that the Springs offered African cuisine beyond its Moroccan and Egyptian restaurants (it actually does).
Charles Kimaita, a Kenyan software engineer, recently organized African Night to unite and showcase local African professionals, including craftspeople, DJs and culinarians from Nigeria, Sudan, Togo, Cameroon, Kenya and Ghana. Airplane owner Steve Kanatzar was happy to open his bar and floor space from 9 p.m. to roughly 2 a.m. to host the monthly party.
At August's celebration, Kanatzar and a small crowd were still tearing up a makeshift dance floor around midnight. The blend of music alone — from Kwaito and Afrobeat to Benga and 20 more African styles — warrants a drive.
But I was there to eat. And when AboAbo African Caribbean Market proprietor Philomena Abdulai arrived bearing an array of pots and catering trays, I sampled a couple of flavors entirely new to my palate. (As attendance grows, Kimaita says, he will invite other African restaurants, like Tajine Alami.)
First: Goat Light Soup, comprised of huge chunks of goat still on the bone, with ginger, garlic and habañero chili in a tomato and beef broth ($6 bowl). While you have to be careful for smaller bone fragments, and welcome a bit of a gamey, musky flavor, the slightly spicy broth matched the flavor well in small bites.
Next, Abdulai dished a heaping plate of dirty rice (white rice with all the soup's spices) topped with Caribbean jerk chicken and a skewer of peanut- and habañero-powder-seasoned beef kebab ($10). Though the rice was a bit dry and hard (likely from a re-heat in the kitchen) and a few of the kebab cuts were fatty and bordering too-well done, all the flavors pleased, especially that of the chicken.
But aside from the goat soup and unique habañero hints throughout, I didn't really feel I ventured far into Ghanaian cuisine until I visited AboAbo the following week.
Each Saturday, Abdulai serves a rotating spread of soups and mixed plates (same prices) at her market, whose four tables sit among shelving half-stocked with items like palm oil, beans and fufu mix (a paste made from root vegetables boiled, then ground; at meals, you pinch pieces to eat with soups). Unfortunately, she didn't have any fufu that day, so I enjoyed a simple but delicious Ground-nut Chicken Soup (made with peanut butter) without it.
This time, my plate included impossible-to-dislike fried plantains next to white rice and two tasty, palm oil-dominant dishes. The first, called red-red (because of the oil's dark crimson color), blended mackerel bits with black-eyed peas, tomatoes and onions. The second, kontomereh and egusi stew (spinach and pumpkin seed, respectively), again incorporated mackerel bits and tomatoes with the roughage in an oily red mix.
I recommend that food adventurists who enjoy authentic national cuisines visit either AboAbo or African Night at least once. You're guaranteed a new dining experience.