1201 W Arbrook Blvd, Ste101, Arlington. 682-323-7609. 12-8pm Sun-Mon, 11am-8pm Tue-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat.
With some 190 million citizens, Nigeria is the African continent’s most populous country and largest economy. More than 500 distinct ethnic groups comprise the cultural tapestry of the former British colony, now a diverse and rapidly developing federal republic, established on land that has given rise to numerous civilizations over the millennia — the Edo, the kingdoms of Nri, Yoruba, and Benin, and the Songhai Empire.
Of course, I had to get this information from the interwebs. During two decades of formal education, I’d be surprised if more than 90 minutes were devoted to the history and culture of Sub-Saharan Africa, and I certainly couldn’t have told you the first thing about Nigerian cuisine. It seems to be a common enough problem — but for all of us suffering under such ignorance, there is, at least, some good news: We have neighbors standing by, happy to share their culture with us, and it can be delicious work.
Two of them are Lola and Malcolm Fajemirokun, whose Taste Afrik provides the flavors of home for some of their grateful customers — and an education for others. From their modest South Arlington storefront, the couple serves a small but peppy selection of spicy Nigerian classics. Relaxed and contemporary, with an unfailingly friendly vibe, the dining room of Taste Afrik is the perfect place to get introduced to some new flavors.
My guest and I visited on a lazy Sunday afternoon and had the place nearly to ourselves. Summer sunlight danced off stainless-steel tabletops, and fragrant notes wafted from the kitchen. Counter service was informal and familiar, conveying the charm of being welcomed into someone’s home.
The British colonial influence is evident in the kitchen’s pastries, a changing selection of hand pies filled with chicken, sausage, or other meats. North Texans have our own versions of these, but neither our ubiquitous wax-paper-wrapped fried pies nor their more reticent kolache cousins could hold a candle to the magnificent specimens we found at Taste Afrik. A half-inch of flakey, biscuitlike crust was given a golden egg wash and baked around a peppery filling of sausage and gravy. Wherever you are, pies like these are worth the trip.
Scotch egg, another legacy of the Crown, is a boiled egg encased in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried. I’d seen these on TV but hadn’t tried one until my visit to Taste Afrik. The crust was thin and crisp, the ground sausage was snappy (and very spicy), and the golden egg at the center somehow managed not to be overcooked. If you’re the sort to order a meat lovers’ pizza, or if you’re flirting with a ketogenic diet, a Scotch egg is the appetizer for you.
Our main courses arrived after a respectable period, meaning it felt like our host was back in the kitchen cooking them from scratch. He had recommended jollof rice, a dish similar to Spanish rice, spiced with house-smoked peppers for a deep red color and a paprikalike perfume. Two plump, tender chicken thighs, glazed with tomato sauce and onions, sat on top. The hearty dish was large enough to share with a friend, particularly if you’d like a bit of variety. As delicious as the rice was, a meal of nothing but might have been a bit one-note.
Fortunately, we also ordered a side of efo, a dish of spinach and peppers with an elusive, floral flavor –– ginger? cardamom? –– that we couldn’t quite nail down. Served with the spiced vegetables were hunks of boiled beef that seemed unappealingly tough at first, until we realized they could be shredded like brisket into tasty strands that almost melted away into the mix.
For a little extra adventure, try the house-bottled sorrel juice flavored with ginger and pineapple, perfectly fresh and sharp enough to cut through the rich West African fare. For something sweet, try some of the odd, irregular cookies called chin-chin — named, we were told, for the similarity to fried Chinese wontons.
As we paid our check, our host eyed our empty plates and teased that he hoped we hadn’t found his food too spicy. Like everything else at Taste Afrik, the heat was just right.
Meat pie $2
Scotch egg $2.50
Jollof rice w/chicken $12
Efo (spinach) w/beef (side portion) $10