A Missed Opportunity
About 5 years ago, I visited Africa. The first part of the trip was to climb Kilimanjaro and that was followed by a safari in the Serengeti. Due to the type of trip this was, food was not really a priority for anything other than keeping me fuelled. Having geared myself up for the trek and imagined all the animals I’d hoped I would see, oddly for me, food didn’t factor into the equation quite as much as it usually would when I travel.
A Second Chance
It wasn’t until I returned to England that it occurred to me that there are probably many delicacies on offer in Africa that I didn’t experience with most of the food we consumed being very northernised (or westernised I guess, depending on whether you like to believe it was us being catered for or our friends across the Atlantic). High in carbohydrates and lightweight for transportation. I returned home feeling like I’d neglected to explore one of the most important experiences of any holiday, trying the local cuisine. The truth is, having recently launched DFN, a holiday isn’t really on the cards any time soon and my curiosity had yet to be satisfied. Then I learned that my friend Michaela from Embrace PR had actually lived in Africa for 10 years. Nigeria to be specific and she knew of a fantastic restaurant, right here in Bournemouth serving authentic and traditional Nigerian food. Having spent that long immersed in the local culture, she’s very well qualified to assess the quality and authenticity of their food. I didn’t need any convincing so Michaela and I went to Nativ so I could receive something of an education in traditional Nigerian dining.
As soon as we walked in, we were greeted by friendly faces. Michaela is a regular visitor there. That in itself is an endorsement of the venue. We sat down and the first thing I did was peruse the menu. I’m not sure what I was looking for. Something familiar maybe? I certainly wasn’t planning on ordering anything that I felt was likely to be a dish catering purely for the northern palate. As it happened, the menu was very genuinely Nigerian. There were many things I recognised. Being a lover of everything that isn’t an artichoke and with no warranted concerns about spicy heat, I was open to trying anything on the menu. The more traditionally African the better. With that I closed the menu and asked Michaela to order for me. Obligatorily, she quizzed me as to my likes and dislikes and arrived at the conclusion that it was safe to throw caution to the wind.
I was equally keen to see what Michaela was going to order for herself as I was to learn what I would be eating. Michaela ordered me a Jumbo Curry with Jollof Rice and a side of Plantains. The Jumbo Curry is a typical Nigerian dish, made with goat meat, using traditional African herbs and spices to produce a rich sauce, dark in colour with a deep flavour. I don’t think Michaela would have known when she ordered for me, but she probably ordered what I would have chosen had I a better understanding of the menu. The goat meat was cooked perfectly and was absolutely delicious.
The curry was accompanied by the Jollof Rice. This could really be a meal in its own right. This particular version was obviously Nigerian, but Jollof Rice can be found all over the world where African influence has permeated local culture. Louisiana for example. One of their most famous dishes is Jambalaya. The roots of which can be traced back, without too much digging to Jollof rice. The 22nd August every year is World Jollof Rice Day. That’s how celebrated this dish and its influences actually are.
The rice is cooked with tomatoes, onions and mixed with herbs and spices. I really enjoyed it and could quite happily have eaten it on its own. Not that you could have wrestled my curry away from me without getting stabbed in the hand with my fork!
On the side of my main course was a dish of fried plantains. I’m pretty sure most people reading this post will know what a plantain is, but just in case, think of a hard banana that you can’t eat raw. Firmer in texture and holds it’s shape better when cooking. In terms of taste, it has a similar flavour to a banana, possibly marginally less sweet. They work very well on the side of a savoury course.
Michaela ordered something that we Brits may feel to be quite adventurous. Egusi Soup with Pounded Yam. Egusi soup is very common in Nigeria. The standout ingredient has to be cow’s hoof. As in so much of African culture, it is vital that every part of the animal is used in one way or another. In this country, I’ve never heard of cow’s hoofs being used in cooking. I’m not saying it isn’t and by all means tell me if I’m wrong, but it’s definitely not something we speak about freely. I honestly had no idea what it was going to look like when it was cooked, let alone what it would taste like. I’ll resist the temptation to do a deep-dive on it. All I’ll say is that if you are the sort of person that likes to try things, give it a go. You might be pleasantly surprised. It’s effectively gelatine and if it’s cooked in the right way it will retain a beefy flavour.
The Egusi Soup itself is made from ground melon seed and contains an assortment of meats and crayfish. The Pounded Yam is effectively a dough. The idea being that you break a bit off, ball it up (dumpling style) and dip it in your soup so it can absorb the liquid and take on the flavour and that’s how you eat your soup. You also use it to pick up any of the larger pieces of meat or vegetables. The dough itself has very little flavour as it is essentially a consumable vessel for transporting the soup to the mouth.
Meeting The Owner
After enjoying our dinner, I was able to sit down and chat with Nativ’s owner Prince. It’s not just about bringing traditional African food to Bournemouth that drives Prince. As well as producing the highest quality food possible, Prince is committed to supporting other local businesses and wherever possible using locally sourced ingredients. This was music to my ears. Needless to say that Nativ now has a new fan and I’ll be stopping by regularly in the future to work my way through the menu.
You can follow Nativ on Facebook here. A new website is also on its way.