Rice, Plantains, Spice: A Lot To Like With Nigerian Food - But Not The Goat

August 05, 2009|By ROB KASPER

The other day I attempted to eat like a Nigerian.

I had a serving of jollof rice, red rice flavored with a sauce made of tomatoes, spices and chili peppers. It was topped, initially, with some piece of boiled beef.

Later I replaced the beef with goat meat, a piece that still had the skin on.

"People who know about meat, always go for the goat," said Bamidelle Ogundele, better known as Lady D, the owner and chief chef of Lady D's Cafe at 2637 Greenmount Ave.

Ogundele was giving me a quick tutorial in the cuisine of her native country, Nigeria. It is a lesson that is likely to be repeated this weekend at Patterson Park. There, she will be one of the vendors selling food at FestAfrica, a two-day event celebrating African culture, music and heritage.

Many Nigerians and some residents of Ghana like the texture and flavor of goat meat, she said.

"When you eat something, you should feel it," Ogundele said, referring to the chewable nature of goat meat. "When you have goat, you chew it longer than beef, getting more taste out of it," she added.

A restaurant patron, Kennedy Marfo, a native of Ghana, also praised goat meat.

"Its protein level is much higher than beef," he said. "The back of the goat, the juicy part, is much better with the skin on."

I sampled a piece of goat meat with the skin still on it. I struggled. I was reminded that I grew up in Kansas, a long way from Nigeria. I had a hard time chewing it.

I did like the jollof rice. It had zing, provided by a hot pepper sauce. Chili peppers are held in high regard by Nigerian cooks, Ogundele said.

Images of hot peppers and tomatoes decorated her restaurant. Some Nigerians, she said, have a taste for hot-pepper soup, which they have at the end of the meal, as an aid to digestion.

The fiery soup, however, was not on the menu at her restaurant. "It is a special request item," she told me, but I did not request it.

Fried plantain, sometimes called dodo in Nigeria, is another staple of Nigerian food, she said. The four fried plantains that came with my serving of jollof rice were delicate and flavorful.

Yams figure prominently in the cuisine of Nigeria and other African countries, and Ogundele and Marfo had a long discussion about fufu, pounded yams

In Africa, the yams are peeled, cooked, then pounded with a long stick and served as a dish that resembles mashed potatoes, they said.

In America, the dish is made from a yam powder with hot water added to it.

"The better one is the pounded yam," Marfo said, "because it is all natural. But pounding is a lot of work so people don't do that here."

Nigerians who are really adept at eating fufu, Ogundele told me, can roll the mashed yam into a ball, make indentations in it, then dip it into soup.

She assumed I was not up to this task, and she was right.

Yam porridge is a favorite Nigerian dish, she said. It is served with a choice of fish. There is fresh fish cooked in tomato sauce. There is dry fish that is smoked. Or there is stock fish, fish that is boiled for a long time, then when it is tender, cooked again with the sauce of tomatoes and peppers.

Two common fish in Nigeria are tilapia and catfish, Ogundele said.

Of the two, she had a definite preference.

"I go for catfish any day," she said.

If I were dining in Nigeria, I might drink palm wine, a beverage made from the sap of palm trees, she told me.

But since we were dining in Baltimore, not Lagos, there was no palm wine.

Instead I drank water, very cold water. It helped cool the burning on my lips from the chili peppers.

If you go

FestAfrica '09 runs noon-8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Patterson Park, 200 S. Linwood Ave. Admission is $5 and free for ages 10 and younger. Call 410-608-0420.

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