Where to find some of the finest pastichio, moussaka, and moi-moi in Austin
Reviewed by Rachel Feit, Fri., Oct. 3, 2003
Afia Cafe6929 Airport #125, 450-1101
Have you been dreaming of a bitter-leaf soup? Scouring the city for a steaming bowl of Ogbono? Well, look no more. Austin now has its very own restaurant serving authentic West African foods (and a few Caribbean specialties, as well). Not for the gastronomically timid, this restaurant makes few concessions to American tastes. Beef stew usually features beef tripe in addition to chunks of sinewy beef, and fish soup will have bones. Americans unfamiliar with West African cuisine should go with an open mind; homesick West Africans should just go. With a mainly African clientele and a Nigerian-born cook (who studied catering in her home country), Afia couldn't get any more real.
Culinary explorers bold enough to make the trek up to the Highland Village shopping center will discover some rare jewels there. Afia's Chicken Stew With Plantains ($5.99) features tender-fried chicken parts smothered in a smart, spicy sauce redolent with tomatoes, onions, and curry spices. The same sauce can also be matched with moist-fried fish, goat meat, or beef (various prices). Afia's Caribbean Chicken Curry ($6.99), made with creamy coconut milk, tomatoes, and spices, will be recognizable and pleasing to anyone who loves South Asian curries. Or try the Moi-Moi: savory steamed bean cakes filled with boiled eggs and meat ($2). The truly bold should consider the Egusi soup ($7.99), an herby stew made with ground melon seeds, chiles, okra, and your meat of choice. Served over fufu, a doughy yam-flour dumpling, this soup is undeniably slimy, yet surprisingly toothsome.
It is important to ask the server exactly what everything is, because the menu descriptions are meager and basically assume that the diner is already familiar with this type of cuisine. Don't let the menu intimidate you, though: The staff at Afia Cafe is friendly, patient, and seem genuinely pleased to have novice customers like myself -- whose only experience with African cuisine comes from well-edited cookbooks, or from the cloth-covered tables and exotically atmospheric dining rooms of Washington, D.C.'s Ethiopian row in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Afia Cafe is a refreshing change from the sort of food that has become iconic of Africa in America, and is a lesson in a little-known culinary tradition.
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