If you’re visiting The Taste of Tomorrow site for the first time, it’s probably because you just read “A Taste of Tomorrow, Today,” Bill Daley’s story in the Chicago Tribune.
After reading Bill’s excellent piece, you might want to know a little more about who the hell is this Josh Schonwald guy in Evanston, why does he love goat pepper soup, why does he want to try every African restaurant in Chicago.
Or maybe you don’t care about any of that.. Maybe you’re just looking for more information on sub-Saharan African restaurants and tips on how you can make Kenyan appetizers, South African barbecues, or a four-course Nigerian feast.
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s start this week with Post #1 — an FAQ for TofT first-timers.
1. Why are you eating this Giant African Snail and how did you become interested in exploring Chicago’s African food?
Bill succinctly addresses my curiosity in the Tribune, but the full-blown story of how I became interested in sub-Saharan African food — which started more than 20 years ago at a Chinese restaurant in Zion, Il —is chronicled in detail in The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches from the Future of Food. Please read the whole book — don’t miss The Culinary Potential of Frankenfood — and buy two copies for friends.
But if you’re really only interested in African food, check out the chapter. “The Last Culinary Frontier.”
2. What are your Four Favorite Sub-Saharan African Food Items at Chicago Restaurants?
Bill did a great job reviewing six of Chicago’s African restaurants — check out his take on Yassa African restaurant, Qaato, Palace Gate, Nigerian Kitchen, Iyanze, and Bolat African cuisine. My personal faves?
Grilled lamb chops & jollof rice —Yassa. Yassa couldn’t be more inconveniently located for someone in Evanston— it’s on 79th Street on the south side— but it’s well-worth the 2-hour (seemingly) trip. The Senegalese know how to prepare lamb (Joe Perillo is right). The jollof rice has no rival in Chicago. The Afro-pop, the friendly staff, & the drinks make the food taste even better. Make sure you ask Madieye Gueye, the friendly and highly entertaining owner, to tell you the Joe Perillo/lamb story.
Goat pepper soup — Bolat. There no better place in Chicago for a general introduction to sub-Saharan African foods, and there’s no place, I’ve found, that has better goat pepper soup. If you like hot and sour soup, and intensely peppered foods, it’s a must-try. Also, I love Bolat’s suya and shrimp piri piri.
Best Egusi — Qaato. Egusi is the stew/soup that is to Nigerians what bouillabaisse is to the French, or Tom Yum is to the Thai. Egusi done right is an insanely spicy broth of ground melon or mango seeds, shrimp (sometimes), spinach, peppers, and a protein (fish, oxtail, goat). It just so happens that there is a terrific purveyor of egusi on north Clark Street in Rogers Park about 15 minutes from my house. It’s an unassuming place. It’s poorly lit (you’ll think it’s closed) but Qaato is a great place to try egusi and explore other Nigerian favorites. Here’s an earlier post about Qaato’s sublime egusi — Qaato is, by the way, the only place in Chicago that offers escargot made with giant African land snails.
Best Drinks — Yassa.. Tamarind, bissap, hibiscus, baobab. I love Yassa’s drink offerings. In fact, we’re going to devote an upcoming TofT podcast to the baobab — it’s taste, uses, and why it’s almost inevitably on its way to “next superfruit” status. Note: make sure you call ahead to make sure the juices are available at Yassa.
3. What’s Your Favorite African Cookbook?
The Tribune story focuses on dining out — Chicago’s African restaurants. But my “gateway experience” was inspired by a cookbook, Marcus Samuellson’s The Soul of a New Cuisine. Other helpful books include Jessica B. Harris’s The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent , Laurens van Der Post’s African-Cooking (part of the Time-Life “Food of the World” Series), and an excellent overview of cookbooks posted here on the Congo Cookbook web site. Many of the ingredients are available at a good grocery story, but if you’re looking for an elusive Nigerian pepper or want to make your own fufu or garri, you can check out the Old World Market at 5129 N Broadway in Uptown.
4. Why are you so certain that sub-Saharan African foods will become a much bigger part of US food offerings in the next 20 years?
There’s a long, detailed answer, complete with an algorithm, some theorizing about economic development and globalization and the food movement in the book (around p230), but the short, and far more enjoyable answer is three words long.
Try Bim’s Kitchen
You can’t get Bim’s at a store in Chicago. You’ll have to pay a premium shipping fee to get it. But if you really want to find out right now why African food is coming, how it might taste, what Wolfgang Puck might do when he enhances his menu with African ingredients, well then your best best is to go to www.bimskitchen.com.
Here’s a piece I wrote about Bim’s a few months ago titled “Senaglese Take-Out & Baobab-Infused Vinaigrette—Sooner.”
Apply some of Bim’s marinades —try a salad with a baobab pepper vinaigrette, maybe some grilled chicken in a lemon piri piri sauce, or some baby back ribs in a smoky baobab-barbecue sauce. Definitely try the African chili coconut relish, do something — maybe eggs — with the curry egusi, and, by all means, try some French fries with Bim’s distinctively African ketchup. You’ll get a taste of the future.
ALSO, if you want to hear more about James Adedeji, aka Bim, the Nigerian Londoner, and pioneer of “modern African” check out the Taste of Tomorrow podcast from earlier this year. Warning: Chris Bentley (the co-host, and now a blogger on environmental issues for WBEZ) and I are doing our FIRST podcast. We’re just figuring things out here, testing out the mic, Nonetheless, bear with us, and you’ll learn some interesting things about Nigerian foods, London’s African food scene, and Bim’s thoughts on what could be the African equivalent of pad Thai — ie: the “gateway” food. Here it is.
And one final request…. Even if you have no intention of have a curry egusi marinade air-mailed to you from Bim’s Kitchen in London, go visit the site, email Bim, and tell him that you would like to try Modern African cuisine in Chicago. I’m hoping that he’ll start selling it in the US, or will find a US distributor… and the price will fall. It’s a long shot, but the point: his sauces are great, easy-to-use, and they demonstrate the potential of African flavors.
5. Where Can I get More Info on African Foods?
If you’re interested in more on African foods in Chicago, and beyond, please come back! In coming months, our irregularly updated web site vows to become more regular. We’ll post updates on our latest African food experiences, we’ll tell you about new articles about African food — such as Plate magazine’s feature “Undiscovered Africa,” which has a terrific feature on African desserts. We’ll point you to blogs, such as DC-blogger Chef Afrik’s chronicle of her quest to cook her way through Africa one country at a time.
If you subscribe to the TofT newsletter or like our Facebook pages, we’ll let you know about any new updates. The next planned update: The Baobab Show. Chris and I will devote an entire hour to the baobab. Everything you need to know about baobab, and why it will be a bigger hit than acai, pomegranate, goji berries combined.
Thanks again for stopping by. And please stay in touch — we’d love to hear about other African foods/restaurants you’ve tried, both locally and abroad.