Day 42: Nigeria
I hadn’t planned on writing a post that had anything to do with politics or the election. It’s not related to food and I just didn’t figure it would come up. But sometimes things come up all by themselves and there’s no way around it. I arrive in Inglewood, CA with GirlfriendBites and my friend David to try out the Nigerian restaurant Saaris. Passing a local bakery on our walk from the car to the restaurant, we look inside and notice a lot of people watching the final debate between John McCain and Barack Obama. We had recorded it and planned on watching it when we got home, but think it looks like a pretty interesting place to take it in. But we have Nigerian food to eat, so we all bypass the bakery and step inside the restaurant.
We enter, and it’s quickly apparent that we aren’t walking into a restaurant, but a small community of people gathered together to watch a debate. Tables full of real, full blooded Africans watching the television at full volume until the entrance of three very white people causes them to turn and look in disbelief. After a moment, they all get back to the television and we take a seat in the corner. Our kind, friendly waitress takes drink orders and recommends dishes as we turn our attention to the debate. People have quickly gotten over our bizarre arrival as men with thick African accents respond to McCain’s comments while their children sit quietly, tapping their thumbs out of boredom.
We order in hushed tones as I notice that almost everyone is done eating. Families are seated, plates have been cleared and it’s obvious that they’ve been here from the start. They ate an early dinner and stayed for the debates. No one is going home to finish this thing and the setting offers a sense of community I’m just plain not used to in my own life. The words spoken on the television seem to resonate more here than with any die hard liberals I know. It’s the difference between understanding what’s wrong with the country and really, truly feeling it.
An amazing dish of egusi, (chicken with vegetables), served with a side of fufu, the ground root starch which Jonathan Gold has appropriately said tastes like instant mashed potatoes, arrives at our table to universal praise. Pieces of fufu are torn from the dense, white ball and used to soak up and grab the various tasty goods. We are served stewed chicken in a wonderful thick, red sauce with a touch of vinegar that creeps up at the end, an absurdly slimy okra dish with goat meat, reminiscent of my incredible Ghanaian meal from weeks ago, and sides of spicy greens and fried plantains. These are all washed down with Nigerian palm wine, which is mixed with a bottle of Heineken in a pitcher, then poured into pint glasses. It’s an intriguing new beverage to me and one with the consistency of a Belgian beer, but that tastes like some kind of African version of sangria.
The debate comes to a close and the tables quickly clear. Our waitress now talks in her full voice, asking where we’re from and how we came to find this place. We tell her honestly that we loved the meal and she hands us each a business card. Now the only people left in the restaurant, we talk of politics, food and whatever else crosses our minds. But I can’t help but think of the people on food message boards and blogs writing in to find out where the best place is to watch the debates. Some gastro pub or wine bar perhaps? Maybe some upscale burger joint? The answer, I’m now certain, is a Nigerian restaurant in Inglewood with some chicken egusi, a bottle of palm wine and a big heaping mound of context. It turns out that politics, every once in a while, can be real after all.
307 E Hillcrest Blvd
Inglewood, CA 90301
Food Breakdown: 3 alcoholic beverages, 2 non-alcoholic beverages, 1 appetizer, 3 entrees
Distance From My House: 7.8 miles