Located in NE Washington DC , West African restaurant Zion kitchen has been in business of bringing friends and families together over a meal for fifteen years.
Restaurateur Ms. Oyindamola Akinkugbe has accomplished the triumphant feat of expanding her business from first a home based business to now a fully equipped lounge for private dining and entertainment, that can accommodate over a 100 seat-in dining. She can also cater private parties capable of serving over two thousand guests. In Nigeria, the pubs for the most local native eat-ins are usually called “Mama-put”. Those mama-put restaurants typically have some of the best and tastiest dishes you can ever find. Mama-puts are usually the elderly indigents that are like artisans of cooking native cuisine. They never use a recipe guide ever and neither do they second-guess themselves when cooking. They can cook ten things at once and not blink an eye, they are the most skilled chefs in the food industry in Nigeria. One could call them Artisans of Food. The cooking skill they possess are rooted in generations and not easy to come by. If you’re lucky enough, you happened to grow up with your parents or grand-parents who would have been lucky to be handed down the secrets of the fine art of cooking Nigerian food, of which could only have been acquired through apprenticeship and maybe observation. Ms Oyin is the modern mama-put for Nigerian food lovers, a high pedestal to be regarded in.
Ms. Oyin, the restauranteur of Zion Kitchen says she was taught by her mother how to cook, she herself was an apprentice learning the Art of Cooking Nigerian cuisine which is how she has emerged as the number one spot for the kind of mama-put dining when you crave for the feeling of HOME.
Is food just food or could it be considered an Art?
She invited me inside her kitchen and I not only got to see the magic that goes on behind the scenes but got to stream it LIVE with the world too via Facebook!
She prepared three staple dishes : Ewedu (jute leaves), Egusi (melon seeds) and Efo-riro.
These three are staple soup dishes on a Nigerian menu. Soups are usually eaten with a kind of fufu such as Amala (yam flour), Eba (Garri), Iyan (pounded yam) or even with rice.
No specific measuring of ingredients as she stirred the pot of “Ewedu” she added blended fish and a special ingredient with a nutty smell called Iru. The Ewedu is spiced with maggi, crayfish, peppered fish and seasoning. A Slimy and drawing soup with consistency like the Okro.
In making of the Egusi which is melon seed, she fried the Egusi, added Iru to it as she the did to the Ewedu as well. Also added ground cayenne pepper and water. Egusi is one of her main dishes her customers love, I observed as everyone that walked in the restaurant spoke highly of the dish. After adding water, She adds Adobo, squeezes two knor cubes into it, adds two spoons of her red palm oil special mix. Palm oil has to be properly cooked she says to avoid an after taste. She adds the meat which is chunked smoked turkey then she adds fish called Shewan.
For the Efo-riro, there is a separate stew on the grill in another pot where she would add fish varieties to mix. The stew is made of blended peppers & onions which is then properly cooked already after blending and cooking it separately as stew. Mixed in it is Salmon and smoked turkey. Spinach is then added to both the Egusi and Efo-riro.
What is it about cooking a native meal and putting the olden craft into practice? If you’re the artisan chef in this case, no measuring of ingredients takes place and no need to even use a recipe other than applying the fine art through observation and garnered years of experiential learning and skills. When you try to figure out how the deep rooted artisan chefs go about this, they just know what to do and they experience a good flow.
That seamless flow Ms Oyin displayed is the true art of Nigerian cooking, without a written guide or measuring of ingredients but with pure heart and a whole lot of warmth and love.
I ate the lovely meal she prepared for me, using my hands to eat the EBA (garri) with the three distinct soups that was being served and drank a full glass of native Palm wine. (Palm wine is an alcoholic beverage created from the sap of various species of palm tree.)
Indeed I left ZK Lounge well fed and belly happy!
Other items on the menu includes the Nigerian jollof rice, Ogbono soup, yam porriage, Cassava leaves, plantains and all sort of Nigerian and other West African delicacies.
When you visit ZK Lounge & Cafe, make sure to say you saw her story here!
Address: 1805 Montana Ave in NE Washington DC.