This blog is dedicated to all the gorditos, chubbies, huskies, bears, afrentados and foodies that love to eat delicious food and can't wait to hear where they should go next to get their grub on! I'm going to give you the 411 on all the places I love to frequent and all the places I seek out, like the culinary explorer that I am. I'm going to be real and tell what I feel and think. Bring on the comments and most importantly bring on the FOOD!
Like many activists, I was deeply
saddened when Nelson Mandela passed.Out
of respect for this incredible man, I attended several commemorations of his
life and read the various articles published about his human rights work.
But, it wasn’t until I visited one of my favorite eateries-Indian Road
Café-that I truly gained an appreciation for the life and legacy of Nelson
Indian Road Café is a moderately
sized out-of-the-way café/restaurant in Inwood with amazing desserts, seasonal
menus, and occasional guest chefs. The cafe features a bakery section,
fully stocked bar and ample seating for all day meal service. Wooden tables,
exposed brick, and dim lighting, make it the perfect place to kick back and
enjoy an afternoon of reading, writing, or relaxation. I hate to sound
like a tired cliché, but I love to go there to write; in fact, I conceived the
idea of this blog there.
After an especially strenuous
day, I decided to have dinner at the café and unwind with a great meal.
As I entered, I immediately heard mid-tempo African rhythms and noticed the
beautiful photography on the walls. The photos were of South African
landscapes, rural communities, and people.
The most striking photo was of a
young Black man speaking to a crowd of students; it took me a moment to realize
that it was Nelson Mandela.His smiling
face was captured in mid chant with his fist raised in the air. Its
beauty was striking, yet haunting; who could’ve predicted that the charismatic
young man in the photo would one day become one of the most influential human
rights advocates in the world.
After admiring the exhibit, I sat
down and was immediately greeted by my server. The café’s wait staff is
always sweet and attentive; I’m always impressed with their knowledge of the
menu and the food preparation. I
asked about the South African theme and he explained that the café was
featuring Chef Chris van der Walt, a guest chef who had prepared a special
South African Tasting menu; a type of meal consisting of sample portions of
many different dishes served in several courses for a set price.
The café decided to pair the
guest chef’s tasting menu with a local artist’s photo exhibit of South African
natural beauty and historic moments.The
idea was brilliant!They were honoring
Mandela’s life through music, art, and food.
Intrigued, I decided to review
the tasting menu, which featured an appetizer, Vetkoek (Deep fried dough) with
Cheddar cheese, Apricot jam and Traditional South African Beef jerky and Dried
Sausage; a first course of Chilled Lightly Curried Pickled Haddock, Traditional
Lamb Sausage or Chilli Bites (chickpea fritters); a second course of Bobotie (meatloaf
with a custard and sliced almond crust) with White rice, Vegetable Biryani
(rice pilaf), or Bunny Chow (traditional lamb stew with tomatoes); and for
dessert warm Malva Pudding with vanilla ice cream.
There was no way I was going to
pass on this incredible opportunity, so I chose the tasting menu and ordered
the Traditional Lamb Sausage and Bobotie with White rice.As I waited for my appetizer, I started to
read an article inside the exhibit introductory folder.Apparently, Mandela enjoyed sampling the
cuisines of the countries he visited; he enjoyed dining with dignitaries and
world leaders while discussing international issues; and loved his native fare
so much he would have his personal chef ship South African food to him.
I couldn’t believe it: Nelson
Mandela was a foodie!I’m sure he never
used that word to describe himself, but for all intents and purposes, he was
one. As my server handed me my appetizer, I joyfully shared this discovery with
my server, he smiled and said, “Cool!”
The flakey and soft Vetkoek was
stuffed with the cheddar cheese and apricot jam.The cheese provided a wonderful sharp
saltiness to the sweetness of the jam and fried dough.The South African beef jerky was savory and
chewy; the dried sausage had a grainy consistency and a delightful earthy
flavor.The appetizer’s flavors and
textures worked well together.
Within minutes of finishing my
appetizer, my first course arrived, which would’ve pleased Mandela who valued
punctuality, especially in food service.The Traditional Lamb Sausage was paired with a tomato onion gravy and
pap, a polenta made from ground maize.The lamb sausage was soft, moist and delicious.The sweet and acidic tomato onion gravy gave
the rich and creamy pap a wonderful kick of flavor.After learning that Mandela loved umphokoqo
(pap with sour milk and sweet chicken), I was anxious to taste pap and see what
all the fuss was about.It was sweet,
creamy, and perfectly complemented the lamb sausage.
My second course, the Bobotie was
served with white rice and shredded coconut and three condiments (Pico de
gallo, Apricot Chutney and a creamy banana mash).The custard was a bit bland, but the crunchy
sliced almonds added an interesting nutty flavor and textural contrast to the savory
meatloaf.The white rice with shredded
coconut was sweet, buttery and simple.The condiments added a unique dimension to the dish; the pico de gallo
added heat and acidity, the apricot chutney was sweet yet spicy, and the banana
mash was creamy and rich.I wasn’t a fan
of the banana mash, but when mixed with the other ingredients it was palatable.
The tasting menu’s featured
dessert was Warm Malva pudding with vanilla ice cream.Despite being an advocate of healthy eating,
Malva pudding was one of Mandela’s weaknesses.According to the article, he ate it in copious amounts whenever it was
The malva pudding had a moist sponge
cake texture to it.It was rich, sweet,
and when paired with the cold vanilla ice cream, was truly decadent. It was the
perfect way to complete the tasting menu.
I’m glad I visited Indian Road Cafe
that night, it changed my perception of Mandela forever.He went from being an iconic untouchable
political figure into an ordinary guy I could share opinions with about food. I
wonder, if we had ever met would we have talked about politics or food.I’ll never know, but what I do know is that
my little cafe in Inwood is amazing and I would’ve recommended it to him. Don’t
take my word for it, go taste for yourself.¡Buen provecho!
Indian Road Café
600 West 218th Street @ Indian Road
New York, NY 10034