Home to over 5 million people of African and Arab descent, France enjoys a rich culinary diversity; and where better to experience this than in the cosmopolitan metropolis of Paris.
Stroll around any of the 20 arrondissements and you’re bound to find a restaurant serving up authentic African dishes. Yet despite the popularity of such eateries, it’s difficult to know where to look and what to expect. Online search engines often describe these restaurants as ‘African cuisine’ – a rather oversimplified term for a continent with 54 countries, hundreds of diverse religions and thousands of different languages.
There’s a whole host of Parisian restaurants bursting with African flavour and fragrance and, contrary to popular belief, they are not exclusive to neighbourhoods mostly populated by African communities.
Le Mono is a charming restaurant found behind the Moulin Rouge. Much like the artwork mounted on the walls, the menu offers specialities from Togo in West Africa. I particularly like the fish in moyo sauce made with tomatoes, fresh chilli and a fiery citrus kick. Their steamed semolina bread is a delicious accompaniment and a refreshing alternative to rice. With main dishes for under €15, Le Mono is both affordable and appetizing.
For more West African cuisine, head east of Montmartre to the vibrant Goutte d’Or neighbourhood. After five minutes at the open-air Dejean market, which sells everything from kola nut to traditional African fabrics, it soon becomes clear why this area also goes by the name ‘Little Africa’.
Opposite the community mosque is a Senegalese restaurant, Le Nioumre. The soupe kandia is a speciality served only on Saturdays; it is a palm oil-based stew packed with shreds of meat, stockfish, okra and plenty of flavour. Other dishes include mafé – a thick peanut sauce with chunks of tender lamb – and my personal favourite yassa, which is chicken braised in a Mediterranean-flavoured stew of green olives, onion and lemon.
Most dishes are under €10 and served with a mound of rice, which makes the generous portions extremely good value. Also worth a try is the tiakri – a rice pudding dessert prepared with grains of couscous.
Moving south of the Seine and across to East Africa, Godjo is an intimate 20-year-old Ethiopian bistro in the Latin Quarter. The ye tsom vegetarian platter and key wot spiced beef (each €15) are served on the traditional sponge-textured flatbread, injera. You’ll notice an absence of cutlery as the injera is used to scoop up everything from aromatic lentils to curried beetroot. A café moka is the perfect end to the meal but I’d also like to try traditional Ethiopian coffee, served to a minimum of 10 diners.
Fortunately my journey through African cuisine is never-ending in Paris. Next on my list is Moussa L’Africain, a cocktail bar and restaurant at Porte de la Villette. Serving specialities from Mali, Cameroon and Senegal, it also welcomes a live Saba Saba orchestra every Sunday.
So time for more food and less talk; as the Nigerian proverb goes – ’Words are sweet but they never take the place of food’.