Sunday, June 12, 2011

MexAfrican Foods

9817 Bissonnet # N

I'd seen this little store before but wasn't sure it was open; the shopping center has been home to a continuing parade of failed eateries and is mostly empty. Recently I saw a lighted 'Open' sign in the window and pulled in to check it out. I was hoping against hope it was an eatery offering a fusion of African and Mexican foods, maybe African inspired tamales and enchiladas?

Alas, it was just a small grocery. The narrow aisles carried the usual West African staples, some spices and herbs and flours, jars of ready-made 'African Stew' which mentioned jollof on the label. There were also some Goya products displayed, apparently the reason for the 'Mex' part of the name (the street side sign, easy to miss, says Mexican African Caribbean Food).

In the rear was a small meat case with oxtail, cows foot and some other typical cuts; in the freezer case were bags of stockfish pieces and whole stockfish, the unsalted, dried cod from Norway that is widely used in West Africa.

At the checkout counter I spied what I hoped to see - some ready made snacks. Communication was virtually impossible, however. All I could pick up was 'bread' and 'bean' referring to the items I picked up.

It turned out they were all 'bread' - fried breads, that is. The round one was very dense, slightly sweet and tasted faintly of banana or plantain. The flatter more irregularly shaped ones were still warm, very savory and surprisingly spicy; they were also still quite greasy.

The dubyadubyadubya wasn't much help on these but I finally formed the opinion the slightly sweet one was Puff Puff, a Nigerian donut, often served with powdered sugar, while the savory ones were Akara, essentially a black-eyed pea fritter. I like the Akara much better; they would go good with greens or in lots of situations where cornbread might be served.

There had been a couple of empty display cases and trays at the counter so I went back a few days later to check for some others snacks. This time the clerk spoke perfect English and confirmed my deductions about the Puff Puff and Akara (you can just call me Sherlock from now on). I found cone shaped items, wrapped in banana or plantain leaves, labeled jollof - an African tamale? - but I was more interested in the foil pockets which had moi moi, the Nigerian steamed black-eyed pea pudding. This is a popular breakfast and street food in Nigeria and I've seen it on menus before but never had it. As with the Akara, the peas are soaked until the hulls are easily removed, leaving them a pale yellow/cream color instead of brown, then mashed or ground into a paste or flour. Moi moi is made with red palm oil, onions and red pepper and has a reddish tinge and a little bit of heat depending on how much red pepper is used. Sometimes onions, bell pepper, corned beef or chicken are mixed in, too. Sometimes habanero is used but these were only mildly spicy and I don't think it was habanero.

I've never made anything with red palm oil but I have to go back and get some and try it plus the jollof tamales.

The store is open 7 days a week.

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