Taste of South Africa.

Jill: After Maya opened my eyes to the wonder of ramen, we traipsed through the cold to window shop at Muji (the last time I’d been in one was when I lived in London) and see the new Disney princess movie. After a long day of walking and watching, we collapsed in Maya’s warm apartment to discuss dinner. We had very specific requirements for our next meal:

1. I wanted it to be something that I wouldn’t be likely to find in Columbus.
2. It needed to be within walking and/or busing distance of Bed-Stuy.
3. Given our earlier meal, we couldn’t eat too much.

Maya: I had my neighborhood’s new Filipino small-plates place in mind, but it turned out to be closed on Sundays, so we had to put that off. Scouring my well-thumbed list for an alternative turned up nothing we felt like eating, and online reconnaissance was even less helpful. I can’t quite remember how we settled on going to Fort Greene for African food, but we wound up at a restaurant that I’d been wanting to try for ages: Madiba.

Jill: Maya ordered spiced wine and I followed suit. Of all the ways to compromise wine (sangria, mimosas, etc.), spiced wine, I quickly decided, is my least favorite. Wine should never be served hot. Even in winter. That’s what rum is for.

Maya: I beg to differ. Though I can’t usually drink more than a glass (or, in this case, a tin mug) or two in a sitting, spiced wine is one of my favorite winter beverages. Mine had a bigger chunk of orange than Jill’s, and therefore was more citrusy, less sweet, and just what I needed.

Jill: Pop Quiz: Were we able to follow our self-imposed “don’t eat too much” directive? We’ll let you decide. But first, direct your eyes to the ostrich carpaccio pictured above. We skimmed through the starters, skipping over familiar things such as samosas, calamari and chicken wings.  I’d never had ostrich meat before – let alone raw ostrich meat – and decided to give it a try. To plagiarize Maya, I still don’t know what ostrich tastes like.

Maya: Did I say that? Sad but true—we tasted lemon, and cheese, and olive oil, but the flavor of the meat itself eluded us.

Jill: We spent some time pouring over the menu and decided on two entrées that we both wanted to try. Maya chose a seafood curry that came with several sambals. Piled high upon the plate and loaded with langostines, squid, and salmon, this mild curry was a perfect answer to the long and frigid day.

Maya: There were several ways in which the curry could be prepared; after consulting with the waiter, I asked for the breyani. Soupier but otherwise similar to the Indian biryanis I’ve had in the past, it was so good that I instantly forgot I wasn’t really hungry and had to hold back from polishing off the entire serving. The only thing I didn’t love about this was the price tag, but I quickly deemed it money well-spent.

Jill: Of course, the accompanying sambals were part of the motivation for getting this particular dish. From left to right, we had banana coconut with milk, a tzaziki-like combination of cucumber, mint and yogurt, mango chutney and a white-wine-vinegar–soaked salsa. In my opinion, the sides were tasty but the curry was fine on its own.

Maya: Most of the time, I love condiments just as much, if not more, than the main course itself, but I couldn’t bring myself to tamper with this one; a spoonful of the house-made pepper sauce was the only thing I added, but not until I’d consumed quite a bit of the breyani in its unaltered state.

Jill: The words “beef tenderloin sausages” drew me in for my entrée of choice: pap & boerewors, a traditional South African dish served with tomato and onion gravy. Pap, a smooth maize-based paste, reminds me of Tanzania’s Ugali, and I suspect that outside of western restaurants, it shares a similar purpose: to use as a vessel for other foods (such as the tomato-and-onion gravy) in place of a fork or spoon. When mixed together, the sausage, pap and gravy worked well. Separately, I found each to be a little bland.

Maya: The gravy was my favorite part of this plate; the sausages were a little bit dry without it, and the pap was pretty much what you’d expect for something described as “a smooth maize-based paste”: Kinda like polenta, but, yes, bland without the milk or cheese.

Jill: We couldn’t stop at a starter and two mains; we had to order side dishes as well. And, well, when I saw fatcakes (otherwise known as amagwinya or vetkoekon) on the menu, there was no stopping me. Fried dough, while not a part of anyone’s healthy diet, does seem to have a place in every culture’s cuisine. I paired these crispy doughnuts with the mango chutney and fell in love.

Maya: Anything with “fat” in the name is a no-brainer in Itinerant Foodie Land, and for good reason: That’s where you find the good stuff. This? Good Stuff™

Jill: To counterbalance the fatcakes, we ordered a side of chakalaka: baked beans, carrots, tomatoes and onions. A pleasant surprise, this is, by far, the best rendition – African or otherwise – of baked beans I’ve ever had. I quickly resolved to try this at home.

Maya: Me, too. As soon as we got back to my apartment, I pulled out my copy of Marcus Samuelsson’s Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa (one of only two cookbooks that Jill and I both own), only to be disappointed that a recipe for chakalaka wasn’t included.

Jill: I promise to keep my eyes open for something (and maybe go so far as to do a Google search) and report on what I find.

Maya: I promise to go back to Madiba and eat another bowl…or two…or three…until I can recreate this from memory. Don’t pity me, please: That’s called taking one for the team.

Madiba Restaurant
195 Dekalb Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
718.855.9190

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One thought on “Taste of South Africa.

  1. Amanda says:

    It all looks amazing. Not sure if I would have been adventurous enough to try the raw ostrich…

    The Let Me Google That For You site was amazing too… :)

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