Simileoluwa Adebajo missed the fiery stews she grew up consuming in Nigeria. She ignored her mom’s smoky jollof rice.
Adebajo lived in San Francisco, in which dozens of fashionable speedy-informal eating places churn out each sort of rice bowl and ethnically stimulated sandwich you may consider, but there’s no longer a single jollof joint to talk of. So Adebajo had little preference but to follow in the footsteps of such a lot of homesick expats earlier than her: She opened an eating place of her own.
Well, no longer right away, of direction. When Adebajo first launched Eko Kitchen last summer season, she nonetheless worked complete-time as a monetary analyst and spent her weekends hustling orders of suya bird and fried plantains to clients through Postmates and Uber Eats. Before long, she becomes a web hosting pop-united states a restaurant space in San Francisco’s SoMa neighbourhood, a few blocks faraway from Twitter’s headquarters and town hall. And months ago, while she was presented with the possibility to take over the distance on an everlasting basis – splitting the rent with a Mexican eating place that serves lunch there on weekdays – Adebajo quit her day task and went all in.
Starting in May, Eko Kitchen became San Francisco’s first Nigerian eating place. There isn’t any area quite like it inside the metropolis. It’s the kind of stylish spot wherein, on a latest Sunday afternoon, Afrobeats performed infectiously over the audio system; more than one twentysomethings flirted over a pot of jollof rice, and a family with two younger kids wearing their Sunday highest, made short work of an order of puff-puffs, or fried dough dusted in cinnamon-sugar.
In a few approaches, Adebajo picked the correct time to open the metropolis’s first Nigerian restaurant. West African cuisine has in all likelihood in no way had extra mainstream visibility in America than it does at this very moment. Millions of viewers have watched Eric Adjepong, a Ghanian-American chef, cook dinner Ghanian plantain-and-cassava fufu and other West African dishes all through the latest season of Top Chef. Meanwhile, Kwame Onwuachi, another former Top Chef contestant who’s of part-Nigerian descent, these days received a James Beard Award because the country’s Rising Star Chef of the Year. The menu at Kith and Kin, Onwuachi’s Afro-Caribbean eating place in Washington DC, consists of riffs on traditional Nigerian dishes like egusi stew, suya, and jollof rice.
But Korsha Wilson, a New York City-based meals author who has blanketed the meals of the African diaspora for countrywide courses together with Food & Wine, cautions against framing a culture’s traditional cuisine because of the latest hot meals trend. In that sense, it’s beside the point – if no longer downright unhelpful – to claim, inside the parlance of glossy meals magazines, that West African delicacies are “having a moment”.
“It’s now not like Nigerian food isn’t being eaten anywhere. There are lots of Nigerian people here consuming it each day,” Wilson says. “When I’m speaking approximately these cooks, or about those cuisines, I try to say now not, ‘it’s gaining steam’ or ‘it’s hot right now’. Because that implies that people who’ve been eating it for a long time [don’t] count number, that it most practical matters when white humans devour it.”
That’s not to discount the trickle-down effect that the success of high-profile cooks which include Adjepong and Onwuachi would possibly have on smaller organizations like Eko Kitchen – the volume to which someone may see egusi stew on television or examine a list of ten vital Nigerian recipes inside the New York Times and then decide to search for it out at a neighbourhood restaurant.

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