A few weeks ago I read an article about three new African restaurants that were opening in Winnipeg. These are Akins, which I’m writing about today. Yellow Chili, on Main Street, and One Stop African Restaurant, Ebby Ave. at Pembina Hwy.
On the whole, the continent of Africa isn’t particularly well represented in this city. We certainly have a few Ethiopian Restaurants, such as Kokeb. One or two Somali restaurants have opened over the years, and there are also a couple of Moroccan restaurants. However, the populous middle part of the continent has been quite under represented until now.
As an Anglican priest, I have over the last few years come into greater contact with the African community here in Winnipeg. We have two Sudanese congregations, and while I was at St. Mark’s I met Africans from Rwanda, and Nigeria. My home parish of Holy Trinity had several Nigerians as part of the parish, and just this past year we were joined at St. Philip’s by a family of Congolese refugees.
Up until recently my only experience of Central African food had been at Folklorama, and some home cooked food that I enjoyed when I was involved with Focus Africa, a local NGO working to help women and children in Africa. From the website About Page:
Focus Africa Inc. is a non-governmental organisation of Christian women and men committed to supporting Christ-centered women’s and children’s resource centers in Africa. Our sincere desire is to be a voice of hope and to make a difference in the lives of women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa
Akins is part of a little restaurant row on Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg’s west end. Akins is on the East end of the building, In the middle is Harman’s Ethiopian restaurant(I’ll get to that one in a few days), and on the west end of the building is Mercadito Latino.
Lunch Meeting at Akins
My first visit to Akins was made with Graham Macfarlane. Graham works for Manitoba Pioneer Camp, and is also the Rector’s Warden at St. Philip’s., where he is one of the leaders of Root and Branch, the group that meets Sunday afternoons. It was a few weeks ago that we met there and I can’t remember for certain if we were the only customers there or not, but if there were others it was only one or two.
The interior of the restaurant feels wide open. There are plenty of seating options, and there is plenty of room between the tables, and the slightly indented doorway serves the purpose of dividing the restaurant into two parts. The predominant colour is purple, and it gives a great sense of calm to the space.
On this first visit, Elizabeth Lawal, the owner was the only person on staff. She greeted us warmly and showed us to a table. We got our menus and took a look at what was on offer. The menu is a little different looking than most menus I’m used to and I didn’t realize that I was also getting a choice of different Fufus to go with my stew. I chose the Cassava version. This came in a large bowlful, alongside the stew.
While the Fufu may look a little bit like porridge, the consistency is quite a bit thicker. Traditionally the Fufu would be used much like Injera is in Ethiopian food as your utensil. I’ve managed over the years to do a reasonably good job of using Injera as a utensil, but I must admit that when it came to Fufu I was defeated. Fortunately I was also provided with a spoon. Using this to scoop up the Fufu and then take some to the stew worked out quite well.
The stew itself was rich in flavour, with a bit of space, but not an overwhelming amount. The bowl also contained a nice little chunk of beef along with a chicken thigh.
Now, when I went in I figured I could manage an appetizer to go along with my soup. First off I didn’t know how large my soup portion would be, especially the amount of Fufu. Second, I looked at the menu and saw that the meat pies were only $2.50. I figured at that price, the meat pie wouldn’t be all that large. Wrong again.
The meat pie was huge. It was as big as any meal sized Empanada I’ve ever had. The pastry was very tasty, and there was also plenty of well seasoned and flavourful ground beef inside. Fortunately, the owner didn’t mind boxing up the second half and sending it home with me.
Graham enjoyed chicken with rice. I don’t have a picture of his meal, but it was also substantial. Graham also picked up the tab on this occasion, so thanks to him for that as well.
Supper at Akins
It was a couple of weeks before I managed to get down to Akins again. This time I arrived at the supper hour. Again there weren’t many other people in the restaurant when I arrived. A couple of more arrived while I was dining and there were two or three pick up orders during that time. So, if you want to check this place out you shouldn’t have a problem booking a table(I highly recommend you do visit).
This time I decided I wouldn’t go the appetizer and meal route and just stuck with a meal. Over the last year I’ve been reading a fair bit about the relationship of African cuisine and American cuisine, particularly Southern cuisine. One dish that seems to a particular linchpin in this relationship is Jollof Rice. Jollof rice raises strong passions in Africa, and much like Paella and Spaniards, is a dish that Jamie Oliver has managed to cook in such a fashion as to offend many Africans.
The plate came with the rice, a tomato stew, beef, chicken, a quarter egg wrapped in pastry, which wasn’t part of the description of the menu, and cole slaw. The Jollof rice was a nice combination of sweet and savoury. There was also a couple of pieces of Dodo, which is fried Plantain, which is also quite sweet. I quite liked the cole slaw as well, as it wasn’t overly dressed.
On my first visit to Akins I only had water for a beverage. This time around I ordered Zobo. It is traditionally made from dried Roselle(Hibiscus) flowers, and contains, garlic, pineapple, and ginger. I was introduced to Hibiscus as a beverage while at St. Mark’s and I really like this version. The ginger comes through quite well. The Zobo isn’t overly sweet, and makes for a quite refreshing drink choice.
I’m looking forward to trying the other new African restaurants in Winnipeg, however, I think that Akins is one place that will bear repeat visits over the course of time. The food is really good, the atmosphere is relaxing and the service is welcoming and friendly. I again recommend that you take the time to visit.