I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the African Gourmet Food and Wine Festival in Culver City a couple weekends ago. That one hour of being by myself among the many vendors was enough time to discover that it was going to be a special occasion. In fact, in some ways it was, because it was the first event of this kind in the Los Angeles area.
As I waited for my Foodie Friends to arrive, I decided to mingle around and network. The announcer is a man from Senegal who seemed to be a good master of ceremonies for the opening of the event. A pastor from Ghana followed with a group prayer to bless the inaugural event. I couldn’t help, but give him a handshake after his fine speech. Within minutes I was bombarded with many people including the organizers who asked me questions about how I found out about this event and why I chose to attend. In reply I boisterously told each person that coming to the event was an opportunity to satisfy my curiosity on the African food and culture, because I am not so familiar with it. They also kept asking me why I take a lot of photos. I finally broke down to admit to them that I’m was came to eat all the food and take photos of it. I also admitted to them that I had a food blog called The Tasty Chronicles. The next thing I knew everyone was talking in their native tongues. All I could pick up intermittently between each language were the words “internet” and “blog” and “website”. Soon I was whisked away to a chair and told to watch the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony by Messob Ethiopian Restaurant.
She started by roasted coffee beans on the stage.The aromas of roasted coffee beans permeated the air as I watched and took photos. It smelled like popcorn coincidentally. It was a rather simple process, not at all complicated as I had imagined. She poured coffee beans from a basket into a sauce pan, turned on the electric burner, and shook the pan every minute until the beans start to smoke and change into a dark brown almost black color.
Next she carefully placed the beans into a mortar and pestle and pounded it until it was powdery. She then placed the powder into a large carafe with boiling hot water inside. She allowed it to steep for about 10 to 15 minutes and voila…it was done.
The coffee was wonderful. It’s not like American coffee or like the ones from Central and South American with the taste complexities that we’re often look for. Instead, Ethiopian coffee is smooth, robust, and without the tannin and acidic bitter after taste. Ethiopian coffee truly is a simple brew.
An hour had passed and the eating frenzy began. We ate a variety of dishes from Morocco, Ethiopia, Senegal, Liberia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. We missed Ghana and a few other countries, but it was only because we got full so quickly.
I personally enjoyed the street food from South Africa including the Walkie Talkie, which is a deep fried spicy chicken feet delicacy. The owners at the South African booth called Chakalaka Fusion were quite pleased when I ordered it and extremely grateful when I returned to tell them how much I enjoyed eating it. I told them that the deep fried version of chicken feet is so different than the Chinese Dim Sum version that it’s hard to vote which is the better delicacy as I love them both. I would say that the South African version has a similar texture to Beef Jerky.
I absolutely loved the food from Liberia. Sonia, the owner and caterer of Sonia’s Ethnic Kitchen, explained that the process to make the traditional Liberian Potato Greens. Her recipe has chicken and smoked turkey, but the traditional version is usually made with chicken. When I tasted it, I distinctly noticed the strong fish taste, which is perhaps why I love this dish. It’s stewed with a touch dried fish. According to Sonia, the prepping to make this dish is a tedious process, but the cooking process in only 30 minutes.
I also enjoyed the Vegetable Stew and the Stewed Beef with Fufu and Moi Moi from Nigeria. Our dishes were made by I don’t ever recall eating FuFu before, which is why I was drawn to this dish. Fufu is just mashed yams. Moi Moi has the same consistency and texture as Fufu, but it’s made with beans, hot peppers, and tomatoes. Nne-Nne Catering Service provided the wonderful cuisine of Nigeria.
The Ethiopian Curries and Injera from Messob Ethiopian Restaurant were delectable delicacies. Both curries were made with lentil, which makes it a vegetarian meal. The red curry has a spicy heat whereas the yellow one was not spicy.
The most intriguing dishes were the ones from the east African country of Kenya. I am so familiar with the American version of stewed chicken, greens, and black eyed peas. I’m just as familiar with India’s Potato Samosas as well. However, The Kenya version of these dishes taste so much better. For instance, the Kenyan Chicken stew called Kuku Wa Nazi has more depth of flavor that I find so mesmerizing especially since it’s made with coconut milk.
The traditional stewed dishes from Senegal were delicious as well. The Taste of Senegal offered this stewed chicken and rice dish called Yassa. I was told that I would love this dish, because it will remind me of the Philippine dish, Chicken Adobo. It’s so true, but Yassa is made with different ingredients such as a habanero chile pepper and peanuts.
Our only dessert was a Moroccan one called Msemmen, which was an instant favorite for me and my Foodie Friends. It’s a simple crepe with a good helping of honey, butter, and toasted nuts. It was divine.
The wines provided at the event were from Bacskberg Winery located just outside of Cape Town, South Africa; a 96 year old winery and vineyard. I was a bit excited to taste South African wines, because I’ve never tried them before. As usual, I asked a ton of questions just to understand that I’m supposed to look for during my tasting.
The climate to grow grapes in South Africa is similar to the Mediterranean. The Chenin Blanc and Pinotage (a Pinot Noir and Cinsault blend) are predominantly known to be wines produced in South Africa. The Backberg 2011 Chenin Blanc was a very assertive dry sweet wine that tastes more like a tart apple. The acidity level was quite high and I could also pick up some broken gravel notes. It was as if the grapes had the work extra hard to grow.
The Backsberg 2010 Pinotage was just as unique as the Chenin Blanc. It is a very bold, dense, smokey wine and not at all fruity like a California Pinot Noir. I was able to pick up a higher acidity and tannin level. It tastes a lot like the dried herbs and some berries.
Having attended and ate an array of African cuisines from many African countries in just one day, I must say that I enjoyed every tasty morsel. I now love African cuisine and I can’t wait to attend the African Gourmet Food and Wine Festival next year. I would suggest making it a day long celebration to enjoy the entertainment and eating an array of different cuisines and wines from Africa. You’ll discover, like my Foodie Friends and I have, that it’s a cultural gathering in the greater Los Angeles area that is worth experiencing.