“If it’s food, and it’s from south of the Sahara, buy it.
The Taste of Tomorrow editorial memo, May 2011
As regular TofT readers know, in addition to trying to persuade you to eat genetically engineered Hawaiian papaya, warehouse-raised barramundi, cricket quesadillas, and cultured beef burgers, we are very much committed to searching N. American grocery stores, restaurants, bars, food trucks, farmers markets, street vendors and strip malls for foods from the 37 countries of sub-Saharan Africa.
We do this not only because we want to find the elusive yaji or the ingredients necessary to make a sublime chicken yassa or Nigerian goat pepper soup, but because we are eager to say, “I told you so,” and, especially, “I told you so, Dad.”
Recall the post publication days of 2012. That guy who came up to us at a lakeside barbecue only to say “I liked the book… But African food?” The college professor who told us The African Inevitability Thesis was preposterous. The man who declared, after one (one!) visit to one (one!) Nigerian restaurant, “African food is not going to be popular in the United States.”
Well, we dedicate this post to those nattering nabobs of negativism, which include a very high ranking member of the Schonwald family.
It was a very good 60 days for The African Inevitability Thesis.
African Maafe with Roasted Bananas in Evanston!
It all started in Sept. when the weekly email from Meez Meals, our favorite local vegetarian/vegan prepared meals maker —a frequent go-to option when we are too lazy too cook —featured a maafe-based dish: African Maafe with Roasted Bananas. Meez, which is often creative fusion-wise and does a great job heating up vegetarian meals, built a whole spread around the classic W. African peanut-based sauce — adding lots of ginger and cardamom, sautéed broccoli, kidney beans, brown rice, & roasted bananas.
The Meez take on maafe, which we paired with a Red Hook, was delicious. Two points for African fusion.
Then, a few days later, still giddy after the discovery that a foodmaker based here in our hometown of Evanston had discovered the wonders of maafe, a dish as common in West Africa as tomato sauce is in Italy – we were doing a routine search of our favorite trend-tracking sites and found this:
Now, why was it so pleasing to see Baobabest Fruit Cubes, featured beneath a box of Quinoa Milk, on a blog?
Well…. as TofT readers know, last year, given the chance to opine in one of the end-of-the-year food futurist stories (What’s the next Kale) we laid down the gauntlet and went with baobab.The TofT predicts that baobab — the iconic tree of sub-Saharan Africa, the producer of a fruit with an extraordinary range of health properties – was destined, for next acai/pomegranate/blueberry — aka superfruit status. We were also pleased to see that a post about the emergence of baobab-derived products at Natural Products Expo West was on Kara Nielsen’s trend-tracking blog (Kara Nielsen is one of our favorite trend trackers, and, ultimately, is the one who really started our curiosity in African foods.)
But the super big news started coming a week later — when we were alerted to the exciting news that Zingerman’s was also hot for maafe. In fact, one of Zingerman’s food trackers declared a maffe, from The Gambia, to be his “food find of the year.”
Zingerman’s Chooses Maafe as “Food Find of the Year”
Now many foodies will instantly know why it’s a huge deal to the TofT that Zingerman’s is enthusing about maafe. But for those who have never heard of Z’s— it’s a legendary Ann Arbor, Michigan food store (the NY Times journo/gastronome RW Apple called it the “deli of my dreams”) that routinely attracts gushing praise, long lines and has a loyal, cult-like following that will buy whatever Ari (co-founder) loves at whatever cost he charges.(For more on the cult of Z’s, read here, or watch this) In short, Z’s is a trend-maker — they were pushing olive oil and good coffee 20 years before everyone cared about artisanal olive oil and coffee, they were ahead of the pack, nerding out early on balsamic vinegar, high-end chocolate, and ancient grains and artisanal bacon.
So the fact that Brad of Zingerman’s, a guy who surely tastes hundreds – maybe thousands — of products from all over the world, went ga-ga over a take on maafe, calling it his “food find of the year,” explaining it’s significance in West African culture (Brad likened it to an Italian grandma’s pasta sauce or a Louisianan’s gumbo), and then introducing us to The Gambian version of said Italian grandma (Jainaba Janga of The Gambia) before concluding with this seductive how-can-i-not-try-it description:
It’s made from garlic, vegetables and spices all cooked in a peanut and tomato sauce. In Jainaba’s version she adds lots of fresh ginger and garlic as well as habanero peppers and lime juice. It’s bright, tangy, spicy and nutty all at the same time—totally delicious to palates from any country.
Well…. it’s a big, big moment for people who believe that the pleasures — and potential — of sub-Saharan African food have been overlooked.
We are very excited that Zingerman’s is now exploring sub-Saharan African cuisines. In recent years, Zingerman’s has been on a north African exploration, and they’ve featured some wonderful Tunisian foods — harissa, couscous, preserved lemons. They even had a pop-up Tunisian restaurant called “Café Memmi” Given Z’s past, its track record of finding unbelievable stuff, its creativity, and consistent quality, it is hard not to wonder what’s next. Could a delightful egusi recipe be coming next spring? Could Zingerman’s Bakehouse experiment with fufu? Will Zingerman’s Roadhouse offer baobab juice?).
IF you’re interested in more info on the maker of this maffe, check out the Kitchens of Africa site – they also make a yassa sauce, which we are hoping to try soon.
More Spicy African Ketchup, More Smoky Baobab Barbecue Sauce — Taste the Future at… TJ Maxx.
Last but not at all least… the final good news of the good news era….
Just last week, we got an email from James “Bim” Adedeji of Bim’s Kitchen, maker of perhaps the world’s first collection of modern African – or African fusion — sauces with the pleasing news that ANOTHER major shipment of Bim’s is en route to the US. See photographic evidence here:
Why is this a big deal? Well, as TofT readers know, we fell very much under the spell of Bim’s Kitchen last year — see earlier posts . Basically, we believe that Bim’s is a taste of the future — and are hopeful that more folks will get a chance to experiment as we did last summer with lemon piri piri chicken wings, baby back ribs in a smoky baobab barbecue sauce, French fries dipped in a spicy African ketchup.
Last year that simply wasn’t possible for most Americans. Bim’s distribution was overwhelmingly in the UK. But that’s changing.
TJ Maxx (yes, that TJ Maxx) tested Bim’s, with a small North American debut last spring. And not surprisingly, the sauces, which incorporate sub-Saharan African flavors into familiar condiments (egusi paired with curry, ketchup spiced with African peppers, a barbecue sauce infused with baobab) have proved to be very popular.
TJ Maxx is doubling its order! That means, Bim’s will be available in select TJ Maxx (they have a small food section), Marshalls, and Homegoods stores.
James sent us a list of the sauces coming (Smoky Baobab BBQ Sauce, Hot Tangy BBQ Sauce, African Lemony Piri Piri, Hot African Lemony Piri Piri, Smokin’ Red Hot Sauce, Fiery Hot Sauce) and the general location where they’ll be available, but it’s hard to tell from the list. Call ahead!
We’ll keep you posted if we get confirmation of Chicago-area stores that offer Bim’s…. Meantime, here’s a short interview with Bim (audio and production quality are poor — our first attempt — BUT… you’ll learn the back-story of Bim’s which is quite interesting.)