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Kitchens & Conversations


In kitchens run by African immigrants in Delhi are found delicacies unknown to even the most ardent foodies of the city


CONVERSATIONS SIMMER best in tiny kitchens, over spices, seeds and soups. Faces light up and secrets are revealed when plates full of Jellof rice, bowls of Ofe egusi, and Isiewu arrive in living rooms. African immi-grants living in Delhi find a slice of home in the typical ingredients and special concoc-tions rustled up in a few kitchens spread across the city.


Behind the African church on the main road, in a cramped lane of north Delhi is Rosemary’s two-year-old kitchen, Nneka African Restaurant. There are no signboards and the place doesn’t fit the box of a “restau-rant” either — It’s a living room with plastic tables and chairs and seats 10 at a time. On the menu are some Nigerian and Biafran (Biafra is a small region in Nigeria that was occupied in 1970 after the civil war) dishes. It’s a late weekday afternoon, and the place is filling up fast but Rosemary opens her closet full of spices, leaves and dried fish for us to touch and feel. “African men don’t go to the kitchen, but we will try and help you,” says Franklin Egwim, our Biafran culinary guide, with a laugh. “Melon seeds, Knorr maggi cube, dry chicken, smoked fish on a stick, bitter leaf…this is Onga spice from Nigeria, this is Ogbono to make our soup sticky and gummy, and that’s a bottle of red oil, palm oil. We don’t use your vegetable oil for cooking. We go to INA market,” he says, as he points at every ingredient on the table. In the kitchen, Rosemary is busy dishing out Jellof rice, white rice stew and chicken curry, and Ofe (soup) with paalak. A meal costs be-tween Rs 250 and Rs 300, and Rosemary opens the kitchen in the morning and runs it till midnight every day.

“You see all black people here right now, but a lot of Indians come too. This is the most peaceful area for an African man to live in Delhi. Mukherjee Nagar is the best,” says Mazi Obioha, a 46-year-old Biafran. Even then, Egwim has often heard people call him kaalu on the road. He has learnt not to react. “It’s called maturity,” he says. The kitchen, (From top) Chicken and rice at Nneka African Restaurant in Parmanand Colony; the kitchen in Rajpur Khurd; Angela in her kitchen in Khirkee Extension; Angela displays spices from Mozambique Cheena Kapoor, Praveen Khanna, Oinam Anand apart from serving meals from back home, is also where small parties and celebrations happen. “For big parties, we book nearby ho-tels. They are all good people, the Indian owners,” adds Obioha.


It’s been a dull two weeks for Mozambique national, Angela, in a kitchen in south Delhi. That, however, hasn’t deterred her from cooking her three most favourite dishes from home — chicken in tomato sauce; fried fish with plantain; and Isi ewu (goat head, palm oil, Maggi cube). It’s past dinnertime, and Angela and her family are listening to some funky tunes over beer. In the kitchen, in small plastic boxes lies the smells she has grown up with — spices from Mozambique, brought to her by friends and family. “Our food smells different, so does yours. Running an African kitchen is not easy — often neighbours and landlords complain about the smells, some-times they are vegetarians and then it’s a big-ger problem,” says Angela, who has been in India since 2014. On Sundays, she gives cook-ing a rest and heads to KFC or McDonald’s in Saket with her family. “Birthdays and an-niversaries are celebrated in these kitchens we run in Khirkee but the neighbours always complain about loud music or dancing or noise. Sometimes they call the police too. We try to follow all rules,” says Angela. A few Indian customers make it to her kitchen, and sometimes she finds herself gorging on biryani and kebabs too. “I love that in India, you can buy so many things and then sell them outside. I hate the weather here and the fact that some Indians are racist. Very racist,” she says, as she fixed the beads on her hair, and recites the few Hindi words she has picked up such as kya hua.


“This is our Hauz Khas village, our Golden Dragon, our Select CityWalk, our Sheraton,” says Chris Presley, as he looks around the gi-ant living room on the first floor of a building in south Delhi’s Rajpur Khurd —the area in news recently fora clash between African na-tionals and locals there. Plastic chairs, tables, a baby cot, an old sofa, a rack full of Maggi packets, and a small TV dominate the space. Ofe nsala (white soup), Ofe onugbu ( fish, meat, bitter leaf soup), Ofe ogbono (slippery soup), Ofe egusi (melon seed soup) along with a sooji dough are on offer at this kitchen that is open from 10 am to midnight Over ofe, Chris and Sam, both Biafrans, recount various instances of racial discrimination in India, es-pecially Delhi. “I have noticed Indians teach-ing their children that anything black is bad, so when a five-year-old Indian kid sees a black man, he runs away,” says Chris, as he urges us to try the non-skinned goat meat in our bowls full of Ofe. In the living room, a woman cradles her baby to sleep and adds, “We’d rather hang out here than go somewhere else to party or have dinner”. Chris hopes classes will be held for the youth to understand their culture first. “An Indian friend asked me if I live in a bush back home in Nigeria. He can’t believe there are homes. This is the level of ignorance. Food comes later, let’s educate them about Africa first,” he says.


Source: Indian Express