Tag Archives: Nottingham

Ghanaian Food in Nottingham

Scrumptious sea bream, banku and peppers.

Sea bream, banku and peppers.

The food of sub-Saharan Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in general for that matter, has long been uncharted territory for me. Not that I’d ever sneered at the idea of eating fufu and searing hot peanut soup with my bare hands (they’ve already developed thick callouses from the innumerable Indian curries, chapattis and rice I’ve eaten anyway), I’d just never really found an opportune moment to do so here in the UK.

Many of the West African eateries back home in London tend to double up as community hubs for the sizeable Ghanaian and Nigerian populations you find, particularly in places like Hornsey and Tottenham, so entering one of these busy establishments would make me seem like a bit of an interloper in their affairs– something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with and the sort of nervous situation hardly conducive towards experiencing, let alone digesting a good meal. Maybe this was all in my imagination, but I knew one thing – my first taste of the rich, time-honoured cuisine of Ghana in particular (a cuisine popularized in foodie circles by Spinach & Agushi, a successful street food chain based in London’s trendiest neighbourhoods), had been long overdue.

While I’d casually strolling along multicultural Alfreton Road among the various Turkish convenience shops, Caribbean bakeries and Kurdish tea houses, I came across a utilitarian, white tile-adorned café festooned with Ghanaian flags and Fulani-style fabrics. It had barely passed noon, the place was empty, but looked oddly inviting and the small menu promised a generic but entirely authentic selection of Ghanaian dishes for budget prices.

With a slightly devil-may-care attitude, I entered A Taste of Africa and was promptly greeted by a smiling, gregarious waiter keen to find out what had brought me here and to gauge my knowledge of Ghanaian cuisine. To my credit, I was actually able to reference several key features of the cuisine (peanut, or groundnut soup, jollof rice, fried plantains and tilapia, as well as the propensity for Ghanaian men to down unholy amounts of palm wine). Also impressed that I knew his hometown of Kumasi to be the second city of Ghana, the waiter (who was also head chef that day) promised to whip up a delicious feast of fresh sea bream, banku (a fermented cassava dough, similar in consistency to fufu) and a selection of fiery red peppers. By this time, my taste buds were positively tingling with anticipation.

While waiting for my meal, I was accompanied in the small seating area by a Ghanaian mother and her adorable little children, all glued to the huge plasma screen showing indigenous TV from back home (in this case, a hammy melodrama involving a heady mix of black magic, internet scams and sordid love affairs – not exactly child-friendly material, but hey, at least the kids were settled).

As soon as my food arrived, I felt my stomach rumble, which I knew to be a sign a good meal was to be had. Indeed the succulent white fish fried mixed with the two sweet yet fiery hot sauces was near-perfect, and the doughy, starch-filled texture of the banku equally delightful. By this time, the lady next to me had also received her food – a steaming hot bowl of meat stew (possibly goat) with a two round balls of omo tuo, or rice balls, floating in the middle. It smelled divine, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous of what she was eating.

Still, there’s always next time I guess…

Taste of Africa
160 Alfreton Road

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Afghan Food in Nottingham

Ashak - Afghan-style dumplings.

Ashak – Afghan-style dumplings.

A culinary grey area for the majority of Britons and certainly one of the most underrepresented of Middle Eastern cuisines here in the UK, the food of Afghanistan certainly isn’t the easiest to come by. If you live in Nottingham however, and are prepared to venture into the edgy, multicultural shopping hive of Hyson Green (essentially the city’s hub of Islamic and Asian culture), there is one place where you grab an authentic slice of a cuisine borne of cross-cultural pollination along ancient trade routes between West and East.

Kabul Express, a small unassuming takeaway/café-style eatery with the patina of an ordinary kebab joint, offers authentic Afghan dishes for modest prices. But for Kabul being in the name, you wouldn’t necessarily know this specialised in an array of dishes reflecting Afghan’s diverse ethnic tapestry and the rich history of a nation forged through centuries of internal upheaval and conflict.

Aside from familiar meat-on-a-stick offerings (which though still awesome, represent a tiny part of this nation’s cooking), I was unaware of just how refined and sophisticated the cuisine of Afghanistan really is. From what I’d read prior to venturing into Hyson Green, Afghans evidently put special value on meal times – food, and copious amounts of it, being at the centre of family and social occasions in a nation where good hospitality is everything.

Qabli Pulao - the signature dish of Afghanistan.

Qabli Pulao – the signature dish of Afghanistan.

Contrary to what I had assumed, the cuisine has less in common with the food of neighbouring Pakistan and owes far more to its westerly neighbour, Iran. The flavours, much akin to the ancient cuisine of Persia, are nuanced and subtle, the spice blends being based on a canny interplay of sweet and sour rather than being full-on and fiery.

While I couldn’t resist the temptation of a slab of freshly barbecued meat from the grill (in this case, beautifully tender lamb chops in a spicy yoghurt marinade), the dishes that impressed me most were indeed the less familiar, but quintessentially Afghan specialities. The signature Afghan dish, as I was told by the friendly and obliging owner of Kabul Express, is Qabli Pulao, a deceptively simple dish of rice, carrots, sultanas and lamb originating from the country’s capital. The depth flavour in this dish is quite something, with the rich, savoury lamb-infused rice cut by the sweetness of fried sultanas and thin carrot strips. Similar to biryani, the rice is hearty and serves as a perfect standalone dish. I’d imagine this, served alongside curries and the ubiquitous naan breads, would be the ultimate comfort food for home-sick Afghans.

As a side dish I ordered Ashak, or leek dumplings, which clearly have their origins in a neighbour slightly further to the East. Served in a delectable meat sauce with an attractive yoghurt swirl and fresh herbs, they were simply some of the most appetising dumplings I had ever eaten. The dish was simply exquisite, and easily the highlight of the meal. Afghan chai, or Kahwah, a sweet, cardamom-infused green tea was equally equisite and a perfect way to round off a wholesome and delicious dining experience, which was positively enhanced by the warmth, hospitality of the owner who delighted in my enthusiasm for the food of his country. Acting as a de facto cultural ambassador for his nation, which many of us associate merely with grinding poverty and terrorism, he was keen to promote his hometown of Kabul as a potential tourist destination, citing its stunning ancient Islamic architecture and picturesque snow-capped mountain scenery.

While I won’t be holidaying in Kabul any time soon, or at least until it becomes safe for Western visitors, I can at least make regular excursions to a mini Kabul right in the heart of the East Midlands. This really is a unique culinary offering, extremely rare even in the UK’s larger cities and something the people in Nottingham should be proud to boast of.

Kabul Express
64 Gregory Boulevard

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Jamaican Food in Radford

Chantel B's Tasty Bites, Radford

In the depths of Radford – a rather drab and oppressive inner-city district just a stone’s throw from the manicured, rarefied and slightly bourgeois atmosphere of the Nottingham University campus – you can find some of the most authentic and exotic foods this country has to offer. The area is hardly salubrious and you’d do best to avoid it most of the time but it is to it’s credit, an absolute hive of multiculturalism – with Carribean, African and Asian communities mixing it up and contributing to an abundance of foreign influences and foods within a confined, yet densely packed square mile.

Nottingham has a small but visible and long-established Jamaican community and, despite the fact I’ve been living here for some time I’d rarely taken time to venture out into the grittier neighbourhoods in town for a bit of island cuisine. However, the sun was out and the congenial summer feel of a lazy Sunday disolved my somewhat priggish suburban suspicions of the area of Radford which has quite a substantial population of Jamaican settlers and their descendents.

10 minutes into my journey and I’d arrived at Hartley Way – but I’d hit a snag: Jamaican Ways (AKA the place recommended to me by my trusted friend Google on account of it having a wide and varied menu and a long list of praising reviews) was shut and so was seemingly everywhere else. Thankfully, directly opposite me stood a cafe which, despite having a more limited and in some ways a more stereotypical Jamaican menu than the other, looked instantly convivial and appealing. Jamaican staples like jerk chicken, ackee and saltfish, red snapper and curry goat all featured on the menu and I must admit to being a little despondent after having psyched myself up beforehand for the lively and extrinsic-sounding lime-escovitched sea bream at the other place, but I guess this was going to be as good as any.

Curry Mutton with rice and peas.

Chantel of “Chantel B’s Tasty Bites” recommended the curry mutton (a variant of the massively popular Indo-Jamaican dish curry goat) with the obligatory side of rice ‘n peas (a ubiquitous Jamaican side dish of long grain rice with black-eyed peas and soaked in coconut milk to counteract fiery meat and poultry dishes). Done well, this is a wonderfully hearty and filling meal and in a way I was glad I’d ended up with something more traditional to sink my teeth into. The mutton is eaten off the bone and remains delectably tender after having been cooked slowkly in a blend of ingredients reflecting Jamaica’s myriad mix of foreign influences. I thought it only suitable that I washed it all down with a sweet Carribean soft-drink, so I opted for a grape soda in favour of the ultra-sickly Bigga Fruit Punch.

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Restaurant Review #3 – Noodle King

It is surprisingly hard to find a decent Cantonese eatery in Nottingham. Due to a recent influx of students to the city’s two universities from mainland China (namely, the Mandarin-speaking parts), and given the University of Nottingham’s close ties to its overseas campus in Ningbo near Shanghai, the traditional Hong Kong cuisine that used to dominate our Chinese restaurant menus (albeit in a very gloopy, corn starch-laden Westerner-friendly form) is starting to be replaced by newer Mainland Chinese regional varieties in the city. While I honestly believe this to be a positive trend and while many of our high-street Chinese takeaways remain intact despite this change in our eating habits, the traditional and authentic Hong Kong café-style eateries are dying out, as many snub the old-school cuisine that arrived here in the 1950s for more exotic varieties increasingly gaining attention in culinary magazines and on TV. Whereas Hong Kong and Cantonese cuisines are milder and largely rice-based, Northern Chinese cuisines (Sichuan, Peking, Shanghai etc.) tend to be spicier and more wheat-based, with noodles being the main staple. I’m personally a bigger fan of the old-school Cantonese way of cooking and find the cuisine to generally be more robust and mouth-watering than its Northern counterpart cuisines —a higher MSG content might be a contributing factor, but hey, is that necessarily a bad thing?

I’d had a hankering for a plate of authentic Cantonese food for the last week or so and was finally able to satisfy my craving when I inadvertently stumbled across “Noodle King” in Nottingham’s cobbled-street Lace Market quarter. The place was small, unassuming and basic but had a characteristically vast Cantonese menu on offer in addition to a few Northern Chinese specialities. On realising the staff and owner were Cantonese, I immediately knew that what I had to order was a plate of something quintessential to that region; roast duck on a bed of white rice seemed to fit the bill just perfectly and low and behold, it even exceeded my expectations. Tender, glistening with little fat globules and loosely encased in that delectably crispy, sweet molasses-lacquered skin, this was every cured meat lover’s dream. In fact, this is exactly the sort of thing one might go for at a dai pai dong (a typical Hong Kong outdoor food vendor) and one mouthful of this food will make you feel as if you’ve been to the South China metropolis.

My prediction is that Cantonese food will enjoy a resurgence in the near future as soon as people realise how incredible the REAL stuff is. Until that time, you can enjoy flirting with the now bewildering range of regional Chinese cuisines available in this country – as well as indulging guiltily from time-to-time, in that electric-pink coloured sweet and sour pork you might get at places like Tung Fong or Fortune Boy.

Noodle King, 15 Goose Gate, Nottingham

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Restaurant Review #1 – Petit Paris

I came across this little French/Parisian-style bistro place quite inadvertently when traipsing the back alleys of Nottingham city centre in search of a quiet and unpretentious eatery, primarily to avoid the soul-destroying and inevitable mediocrity of one of these faceless corporate chains (although it’s quite rare to find the former in central Notts these days). It was lunchtime, and right at the point when I’d decided to give up searching for that elusive independent eatery for fear of stomach self-digestion brought on by a severe lack of satiety (made worse by my consuming three cappuccinos that morning), I stumbled quite fortuitously upon “Petit Paris” on Kings Walk.

Catering to a large extent for the pre-theatre meal-going crowd, Petit Paris emphasises its very reasonably priced lunch menu, which features three courses of simple and robust French bistro cooking: Soupe du jour, saumon en croûte, moules-frites and fillet steak served with that ubiquitous side of fries all feature on this menu and are the sort of French classics we Brits may love to tuck into on our yearly booze cruises to Boulogne, but aren’t that readily available in many other restaurants back home. Of course, there’s that dire and depressing pseudo-Gallic chain known as Cafe Rouge that I shan’t even bother to deplore for fear of corporate reprisals, as well as those  depressingly anglicised permutations of French classics you might see on gastro-pub menus for over-inflated prices (see. coq au vin, duck a l’orange etc), bu it’s generally accepted that you can’t get decent French food unless you drag your arse across the channel. However, Petit Paris delivers authentic French fair to the East Midlands and creates a microcosmic space within the confines of a cramped ex-appartment building in Nottingham where one can feel utterly immersed in a quintessentially Parisian dining scene.

Indeed from the moment you step into its dining room you can sense Paris and the whole place exudes French: from the impeccably attired waiter in a white starched-ironed shirt and shiny polished black leather shoes to the shabby chic faux-antique wooden furniture and the wafting smell of mussels soaked in delicious white wine jus emanating from the kitchen. As I thought, the food was great; I opted for mussels (I just couldn’t resist), a filet mignon and a delectably light tarte tatin to finish. The whole thing tasted like it had been cooked by French chefs who really new what they were doing – no uncessary garnishes, no frills and no gimmicks just hearty and robust food cooked with an appreciation of the simple but wonderful ingredients used.

Could I fault it? No, because it does everything a modest Parisian bistro ought to with consummate flair and skill to boot. I just hope that this place stays afloat during the recession and that people continue to dine here because it’s a much-needed slice of French passion and refinement in amidst a pool of manufactured, profit-driven ordinariness.

Petit Paris, 2 Kings Walk, Nottingham, NG1 2AE | Tel: 0115 947 3767

Le Petit Paris on Urbanspoon

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