Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wazobia Restaurant

Thursday April 8th 2010
Wazobia Restaurant, 11th and Mt Vernon, Philadelphia, PA

African food, I know not much of it. I’ve seen people eat an Ethiopian dish where there’s some sort of spongey looking bread, almost like a thick pancake which they use as an edible glove to mop up all the meat and sauce and slop on the plate, but I’m not even sure what that’s called. Despite my lack of knowledge, and the fact that every time you see a food related TV show where someones in Africa they always have to eat weird bugs and rotten meat cooked in hot dirt and spit, I was excited to eat at Wazobia after spotting it on my drive back to work. I had high hopes for some potentially delicious food I had never before discovered.

The interior was pleasant, lots of plants and natural light, nice tables, a poster showing skylines of African cities, a bar/counter area at the front of the store, which was not where you ordered food or drinks, but seemed to only be an off limits area where they kept supplies. The place where ordering is done is a small glass window that slides off to the side revealing the kitchen, employees, and a dozen steaming pots boiling on the stove.
No descriptions or even mild explanations are given on the menu, absolutely no hints. There were two sections, one which appeared to be for entrees, and another for smaller rice dishes. The entree section had about seven items to choose from, all completely foreign to me. At the top there was a caption saying ‘your choice of meat: beef, chicken, goat, etc...’ So I figured I’d just go with the first item, because in a blind situation like this what’s the difference? Culinary roulette.
“I’ll have the Amala with chicken.”, I told the woman behind the window. Although it says on the menu ‘your choice of meat’ and chicken is offered, this was apparently an incorrect combination.
“Amala with chicken?” she asked, tilting her head to the side as if she’d misheard me. “You’ve tried this before?”
I came clean, “No. I haven’t, but I’d like to.” She wasn’t convinced. There was a long pause in our verbal exchange as she ran it by the others in the kitchen in a different language.
“You try the Fufu.” she corrected me, apparently having come to a group decision about it. Another woman approached the window after this to confirm my order for Fufu, which I agreed to, because I’m sure they know best after all. After this I answered ‘yes’ to a lot of questions I couldn’t understand and waited while the food was prepared.
Be it Fufu, be it Amala, be it something else entirely, what I got was a styrofoam container with three pieces of fried chicken which had been coated in some sort of sauce which when fried produced sort of a web like texture on the top (and looked pretty cool), an extremely small portion of beans, more like a tasting of beans than a serving, and about six meals worth of seasoned rice.
So much rice. Which at first wasn’t bad, the seasoning was strong, spicy, but not hot. The chicken was extremely dry and no match for my plastic fork who’s talons would be deflected upon contact. The beans were actually the best part, too bad there was only three spoonfuls. I couldn’t finish it. To my disadvantage most of the chicken was consumed, and about half of the rice, which was just a silly amount of rice to eat, I laughed a little harder with each bite.
Having done some post meal research I’ve learned Amala to be yam processed into a doughy ball, and Fufu to be mashed yam and plantain. Two things that sound great to me, neither of which I had. Doughy yam balls and chicken! What on Earth could be wrong with that, it sounds amazing.
So instead of laying their best most authentic meal from the homeland on me, which it sounds like I would have enjoyed, they hit me with some bogus and boring "safe" meal. Why would I be in your restaurant, blinding ordering things off the menu if I didn’t want to try them? Why would you assume that I’d rather have a villages worth of rice and stale chicken? I was disappointed to say the least.

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