African Chop

Eclectic Instapot of Flavors

Food is so ingrained into the culture of Cameroon that even the West African country’s name, camarão, means shrimp in Portuguese. Throw in some 250 ethnic groups and the influences of colonization by Germany, France and the United Kingdom. Add the Portuguese explorers who named the country after a crustacean and you get an eclectic Instapot of flavors.Flavors served up in African Chop, as far as I can tell the only sub-Saharan African food truck in Los Angeles, California.

"African food was not represented…”

African Chop is part of what has become a fleet of an estimated 400 food trucks in LA. The culturally diverse meals on wheels include the trailblazing Kogi truck which started selling Korean BBQ tacos back in 2008.

It’s only been just over a year since African Chop started cooking, but Hector Tantoh, one of the owners of the food truck, says they are still culinary pathfinders. "African food was not represented in the food truck space in Los Angeles. We are happy to be one of the pioneers,” says Tantoh.

African Chop’s menu features chicken legs, mackerel, beef and even a vegan dish, The to-go meals are all served with a side of  what’s known as jollof rice (more about that later) and puff puff, a savory version of a beignet. It’s a taste of home for Tantoh.

From Young Street Vendor to Food Truck Owner

He grew up in Doula, the biggest seaport in Cameroon. The city is also the country’s financial center. Tantoh compares his birthplace to New York City. "I grew up around street food and street vendors—people selling puff puff and other food on the street,” he says.

His family even got into the act.

"My mom had us selling food on the street too. The values--the hard work I learned in Cameroon have added to the food truck.” He brought those values to the United States where he earned an MBA before landing in Los Angeles. It’s here where he joined forces with fellow Cameroonian Opportune Akendeu, his African Chop partner. It was easy for the two come up with the name for the truck. Back in their homeland “chop" stands for food.

"Easy" Transition to Food Truck

"I never saw a food truck before coming to the US, but it's easy for me to see how it would catch on. I buy food from street vendors all the time. For me it was an easy transition to sell food on the street,” says Tantoh. He and Akendeu take turns when it comes to running the truck. During my visits Tantoh was in the driver’s seat at spots two regular spots. One is near city hall and the other is in front of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as LACMA.

The customers he welcomes are as varied as the city’s food trucks.That includes Whitney Butler, a transplant from Arkansas. She walked passed food trucks in front of LACMA offering fragrant falafel, bulgogi beef and tempting tacos in order to stand in line at African Chop. She’s a regular who always orders the chicken plate. "Once I moved here I tried all kinds of food and I fell in love with African Chop’s chicken,” Butler says.

Actor Kwesi Boakye needed no introduction to African Chop’s fare. Though he’s American-born, his immigrant family is from Ghana. He is very accustomed to the items on the food truck’s menu. A particular favorite of Boakye is jollof.  The tomato, onion and pepper-flavored rice is a side dish at African Chop. But throughout western and central Africa jollof is smack dab in the middle of one of the biggest cuisine conflicts in all of Africa.

The Best I Have Ever Had

With that knowledge I prod Boayke, with his Ghanian ancestry and all, to reveal his favorite version of the dish."Is African Chop’s jollof the best jollof you have ever had?” I ask not so innocently.Tantoh listens and laughs, knowing where I am going with my line of questioning. "For sure! I’m from Ghana. This is one of the best I have ever had,” he responds. Tantoh continues laughing before I go all in. “So jollof from Cameroon is better than Ghana’s?” I ask. Them’s fighting words. Tantoh continues to laugh as Boakye stammers his response.  He recants his previous tasty testimony.

“I can’t say that. No. No. No,” he says. "This is the closest thing to the jollof in Ghana.  It’s up there, it’s up there.”

“My jollof brings all the boys to the yard…"

Boayke’s largess may be due to the fact that jollof beef is especially piquant between Ghana and Nigeria. To calculate the popularity of jollof all you have to do is search the internets. You’ll find jollof festivals. There’s a podcast called “Jesus and Jollof.” There are multitudes of jollof love songs. My favorite lyric from the jollof jam “Ghana Jollof" is “My jollof brings all the boys to the yard…”

Many of African Chop’s customers, like regular Whitney Butler from Arkansas, don’t have a clue about the origins of the rice that’s served along with every African Chop plate. She did not know anything about jollof until I asked her about it. And I’ll admit that I didn’t have a clue about jollof until doing this story. My family heritage traces to the south eastern nation of Malawi where we like our rice plain and uncontroversial.

Schooling Diners

Tantoh says schooling his diners is part of his charge. "In LA where people are very open to trying new cuisines there is still a challenge. They’ll say ‘What is West African food? Oh, it’s rice.' People don’t understand the variety and how big Africa is. There is so much variety within the continent,” he says.

An Education Process

"And because people haven’t been eating this for long they don’t know about it. But you can ask an American and they will tell you about Thai food and different kinds of nuances of Thai and they have never been to Asia. But they can tell you because they’ve experienced it around them. I think part of what we’re doing is an education process." says Tantoh.

In addition to educating patrons about African food the food truck also serves up a healthy helping of African culture.  African Chop is like a walking, make that rolling, billboard festooned with posters and leaflets advertising events around Los Angeles featuring the African diaspora. It’s all part of the general mission.

An Insertion Point

“This is an insertion point. So this is how you break into the cuisine is through jollof. If you’re curious you want to try more.” The business-minded Tantoh believes an introduction to jollof and other foods from his native Cameroon will stimulate consumer interest in say a sit down African sit-down restaurant.  And even perhaps to the African Chop food products Tantoh and his partner hope to distribute to supermarkets one day.

African Chop’s owners are happy to share their roadmap with other food trucks from the continent. They do not see them as competition.

“…we want more people in the market."

The current market is sparse. As far as I can figure there are fewer than a dozen sub-Saharan African food trucks in the United States.

“Opportune and I help people. If somebody wants to start an African food truck we are going to help them because we want more people in the market,” says Tantoh. Because that’s just how he rolls in his drive to make jollof and puff puff as popular in the US as hot dogs and hamburgers. But I have a feeling he settle on making those dishes or at least as well-known as pad thai.

African Chop Food Truck


Los Angeles, California
408 429 5458

About the author

Lena Nozizwe is and  visual and verbal storyteller. The Emmy-award winning journalist’s book, “Starring in Your Own Life,” was published by Simon and Schuster. Her work and passion has landed her in fabulous eating spots, from Paris to Portland, and from Dakkar to Detroit. Nozizwe loves them all. Keep up with her via her Instagram account.

Mirabella Italian Cuisine & Bar

One fateful day in 2015, Arturo Aucaquizhpi, was walking down the street of his Irving Park neighborhood with his daughters (now aged 14 and 17), destined for the local Stop &Shop. The owner of Mirabell Restaurant, a nearly 40-year old German restaurant a block or so away from Arturo’s house, was closing. Having arrived in the United States from Ecuador in 1992, Arturo contemplated his 24-year dream of opening his own restaurant. He went home, discussed his vision with his wife, and decided that night that he would bring the run-down space back to life in the form of Mirabella Italian Cuisine & Bar, a steakhouse and neighborhood staple.

Having worked at Chicago’s Gene & Georgetti, Chicago’s longstanding Italian steakhouse, for a number of years, Arturo is familiar and well-trained in the cuisine. However, Arturo certainly doesn’t forget who and what brought him to the United States. His father worked in a restaurant to send remittances back to the family in Ecuador, moving here in 1972, 20 years before Arturo would follow at age 16. Arturo recalled his older brother who tragically passed away, attempting to enter the United States and provide for his family as his father did.  Both Arturo and his father worked in Italian restaurants upon their arrival to the United States, cleaning dishes and bussing tables. Arturo made his way to eventually work as a line chef at Gene & Georgetti, discovering his true passion: cooking.

Family and cooking are the cornerstones of Arturo’s life, with his wife (and occasionally daughters) working in the restaurant. One might wonder, as I did, “why didn’t he open an Ecuadorean restaurant?” His answer was very straightforward – demand for Ecuadorean food was not consistent enough. While demand for Ecuadorean food comes and goes, Italian food is perhaps the go-to cuisine of comfort around here. The freshly renovated space is certainly comfortable with warm lighting and exposed beams that transport the customer to a starry night in Tuscany. Having sat down and spoken with Arturo, I’d say that he too is comfortable with Italian cuisine after so much experience in the business. When I asked what his best dish was, he told me adamantly that I couldn’t go wrong with any thing on the menu – and he was right!

The meal began with a well-balanced gin and tonic, accompanied by a bread platter containing offerings that exceeded expectations: roasted garlic, ricotta cheese, and butter kept me plenty busy as I struggled to make a decision. Ultimately, I settled on the black tagliolini with shrimp and scallops, which his bartender told me was particularly good – he too was right. Before the delicious pasta, I enjoyed what may have been the best minestrone soup I’ve ever tried. The bartender also noted how hard Arturo works, all day, every day. Arturo himself believes that “if you want to eat good, you have to work,” and he certainly lives by that motto. Rather than describe himself as a restaurant owner or what have you, Arturo expressed happiness and certainty in what his occupation is, first and foremost: “I am [a] cook.”

Seated near the entrance to the restaurant I was privy to the comings and goings of customers, both regulars and first-timers such as myself. The regulars and staff were noticeably amicable, sharing laughs and hugs both before and after their meals. One customer asked his waiter, “can you make the sauce extra spicy for me tonight?,” to which the waiter replied in the affirmative with a grin and a pat on the shoulder, knowing the customer’s go-too dish as he led them to what is truly one of the most pleasant dining rooms I’ve been to in Chicago. A woman and her husband hugged their waiter on their way out – “until next week!” As Arturo specifically noted the need to offer a pleasant experience in order to maintain recurring customers, I’d consider it a job well done.

Ultimately, Arturo and his restaurant are so inviting. He put so much time and effort into getting where he is, both throughout his life and even in the arduous renovation work that he took on himself (with hands to help). He’s very grateful, thanking God and his family for a blessed life through hard work and faith. I can’t wait to return and hopefully enjoy their lovely outdoor seating and choice meats.

Visit:
Mirabella Italian Cuisine & Bar
3454 W Addison Street, Chicago, IL 60618
773.463.1962

Hours
Sunday: 11AM - 10PM
Monday: Closed
Tuesday - Saturday: 3PM - 11PM

About the author: Julian Bishop is a Chilean-American son of an immigrant and bona fide foodie.

Sambuxa NYC

I met Chef Gladys at the headquarters of what was described to me by the house staff as “basically, the Grammys of food.” In a beautiful kitchen in the basement of a brownstone building on the lower west side of Manhattan, Gladys Shartou, alongside eight of New York’s most creative and inspired chefs, was preparing one of the six courses for diners at the James Beard Foundation “Odyssey Across Africa” dinner, prepared by African Woman chefs and business owners. As the chef, manager, CEO, COO, and holder of every other position in the company she built and still builds from scratch, Chef Gladys was representing Sambuxa NYC at the table, a catering service (and so much more) serving up a delicious menu of traditional and modern Sudanese dishes. Shartou, born with a skill for the seasonings and an affinity for the flames of the food world, offers a healthy selection of flavors from her homeland at Sambuxa NYC, including the titular sambuxas which I was so lucky to try – but more on that later. Because before Chef Gladys was sought out by the enlightened palates of Manhattan, and before she regularly pitched her tent at the Queens Night Market, she saw the world from the eyes of an immigrant several times over, getting a taste of both ends of the horizon, and in between.


Chef Gladys was born in Khartoum, Sudan’s largest and capital city. She stayed there until she was about 5 years old, and then for the first of many times, left to begin a new life in a new place. She went from Khartoum to Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring country Ethiopia, and after a few years to Queens, New York, and then a quiet village in Sweden close to the border of Germany. All throughout her young years, no matter where she was, Shartou grew in the cooking traditions and culture of her Sudanese family. “I started cooking around eight,” she tells me. “Before that I was in charge of preparing salads.” She was always in the kitchen with her family, helping to chop vegetables, but when she was eight years old her father asked her to prepare a whole chicken. “I was like, how do you make chicken? He was shocked that his Sudanese daughter didn’t know how to make chicken. So he showed me how, and that gave me the confidence to help cook real food.”

Outside of the kitchen she also faced new challenges, those of adjusting to her new Swedish surroundings. “They were very conservative when we arrived in the 90’s, the girls had to wear skirts, they had their braids, really Christian. Some of the churches didn’t want people to watch TV.” When her family moved there they were doing well financially in Sudan and in New York, so they were very used to modern living. “They were judging us...they were like ‘oh, you’re from Africa you don’t know anything’ but we were in more developed environments than they were... Even now when I go back, people look, and when I get on the train they’re like ‘who’s this?’”

Stepping in to yet another life as an immigrant in a new country, Shartou left from college in Geneva, Switzerland with a degree in International Relations and moved to Bordeaux, France. and for the first time put on the metaphorical chef hat, cooking Sudanese lunch food to make extra money while in school for International Management. “I put it up [on] a craigslist type page, like ‘hey, try a different kind of lunch.” She hung up the apron when she moved back to the states, working for the Swiss mission to the UN, and then for the Democrats in DC until 2017. “But after the election they let a lot of high level people go, [and] so then I came to New York and I’m like, ‘what’s the next best thing I know? baby-sitting.‘ So I baby sat and I decided to start my business.” And thus, was born Sambuxa NYC in 2018.


Fast forward through countless months of vision, business savvy, non-stop cooking and outright hard work and determination, and Chef Gladys is showing me her peanut chicken skewers sizzling over the blue propane flames beneath the world class dining room that will soon be full of flavor seekers of the highest caliber, embarking on a gastronomical odyssey across Africa. We made our way through the buzz of the kitchen, past Liberian plantain cake and tacos from Benin, out to the patio behind the house, sitting on a long bench opposite a black marble bar to have a chat. I had to know, despite cooking in the cultural smorgasborg of New York City, what challenges Shartou faced serving food from another land. ”You have to educate people about the food, you have to always draw similarities to other cuisines.” When I asked why she chose to start cheffing again in New York, she smiled and confidently told me: “I had nothing to lose, my food is amazing.” She had always dreamed of opening a restaurant and being able to introduce Sudanese food and culture to the world, and her company is “a dream come true.” Her business model as modern and adaptable as her cuisine, Sambuxa NYC is a food entity that caters, sets up at various popups, and takes online meal orders, without the heavy costs of a brick-and-mortar restaurant face. “I do want to open a restaurant some day, just as a sort of home base, but I don’t need that right now.” She mentioned to me that she always felt like New York was home, but when I asked if she considered herself more of a New Yorker or Sudanese, she assured me that she will always be Sudanese. “I am going to back soon... my end goal is to actually [create] a business incubator in Khartoum, to encourage young Sudanese to come in and think about what their talents are and get them some grants, and then start growing our economy.” Far more than just a chef, Shartou is a visionary.


Back in the kitchen, Chef Gladys has two items cooking to be served during the multi-course, multi-chef meal. One, the vegetable sambuxa, I am delighted to be trying; the other, a skewered chicken strip with spices and a sprinkling of crushed peanuts, falls outside the margins of my plants-only diet, but please believe my left hand slapped my right away from reaching for the stick end hanging off the grill. And what are the flavors that define Sudanese food? “The first one, specifically, what I learned from my mom is cumin. But we don’t use like two tablespoons, we use a lot, but you would never know the way we cook it down with the onions and everything.” As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get Chef Gladys to disclose many details on the secrets of her rich food culture, but she assured me there was an abundant use of onions, garlic, and bold spices that other cultures have yet to orchestrate in such a way. My questions fizzle out as she pulls a basket out of the deep fryer and places 4 four vegetable sambuxas on a small white plate and hands it to me, and while I wait anxiously for them to cool I am enlightened to the dish in front of me and its history. Sudan, a place of international trade in the Eastern hemisphere, has seen many cultures come through its gates. The sambuxa is a triangle of fried crust wrapped around a filling of spiced beef or vegetables, similar to the Ethiopian sambusa or the Indian samosa. Sambuxa crusts, however, are made with a rice-based flour akin to that used in some Asian cuisines, and so they have a very light and crispy wrap much like that of a Thai spring roll.


The time has come. The four crispy, golden triangles rest on my plate like crown jewels on a satin pillow, the faint glisten of a thin oil coat, corners and creases expertly folded into the dimension where food and art become indiscernible. I bite in to the first one, and everything Chef Gladys promised came to life on my taste buds. The thin crust collapses easily into light, pastry-like flakes and the filling of potatoes, cabbage, onions and peppers is indeed uniquely flavored in comparison to its cousin dumplings in the eastern cuisines. I could write line after line mounting a futile attempt at what can really only be discovered through experience. In retrospect, I should have taken much more time to truly savor the fruits of Shartou’s craft, but as with all delicious food, my crispy quartet was devoured in short order, and maximum self-discipline was exercised in my effort to leave any sambuxas for the diners upstairs.


Aside from the veggie sambuxas I ate and the grilled chicken skewers, Sambuxa NYC offers a range of #foodanese flavors for everyone, including vegan selections such as veggie and sweet potato-spinach sambuxas, peanut butter eggplant salad and vegetable stews, alongside beef and chicken sambuxas, and as many stews, salads, and wraps as you could want at your event. She may not have a restaurant, but if you’re looking to taste the works of Chef Gladys you can contact her for catering at sambuxa.com or find her at any number of events she serves at around New York, frequently posted on her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter under the same name.

Visit:
Sambuxa NYC

Phil-Am Kusina Restaurant

Phil-Am Kusina, short for Filipino American kitchen, is located in the heart of Rosebank on Staten Island. Home to a population of immigrant families migrating from the Philippines, over 7,700 reside in Staten Island today. Phil-Am Kusina lends culture and traditional cuisine to those who are missing their home country.

Phil-Am Kusina has a unique design that looks like a revamped single family home turned restaurant. Walking in, you will be placed at an open table by the restaurant’s manager Gretchen. Hanging on the walls is décor collected from the Philippines, adding an authentic and captivating layer to the meal. There is no bad seat, each table has an undisrupted view of the outside avenue as natural light pours in from the front facing windows.

This was a slow Thursday afternoon which gave me the opportunity to sit down and chat with the petite restaurant manager, Gretchen. Gretchen states the busiest hours are on the weekend, specifically after church. Religion in the Philippines is marked by a majority of people belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.

We soon discover that Teresita Imperial, Gretchen’s Aunty is the owner of Phil-Am Kusina, opening its doors in 2015. Imperial immigrated to the United States in the late 70s to be with her siblings, travel, and follow her dreams that meant calling America home. After taking the board exams and coming to America, Imperial began to work for Revlon, a multinational cosmetics company. There she worked full-time as a chemist in the hair color department for 38 years, retiring in 2012. Filipino natives are known to be hospitable and business minded. Gretchen added the restaurant isn’t the only food service provider her family owns.
After Imperial married her husband in 1983 - together they started a grocery business. Phil-Am Foods began its food services over 35 years ago, serving up the same traditional ingredients its neighboring restaurant now thrives on. Elements like purple yams, chili flakes, langka (flavoring found in a type of jackfruit) and Japanese inspired sliced sushi ginger.

Filipino food is a cuisine of many influences. Gretchen shares with us her home town called Batanguena and explains that the Philippines is an archipelago with over a thousand islands located in the South China Sea. The Philippines collects influence from China, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan, to name a few of its neighbors.

From 1565 to 1821 the colony was directly ruled from Spain’s government in Mexico. In the midst of defeat after the Spanish-American war, the Philippines then became a territory of the United States until after World War II. This resulted in a culinary melting pot with influence both from the East and the West.

In order to savor the ultimate traditional experience, we went with a specialty drink to quench our thirst. On the drink menu was delightful Filipino juice, and we ordered two flavors, mango and calamansi. Calamansi is a Philippine lime and is ubiquitous in traditional Filipino cuisine, used in several condiments, beverages, dishes and marinades. Served chilled with its rich colors, we sipped on the tangy yet sweet juice while ordering the rest of our meal.

Appetizers range from Lumpia eggrolls with pork and vegetables to crunchy shells filled with chicken sisig. Other traditionally and culturally influenced dishes like miki bihon (egg & rice noodles with veggies, pork and shrimp), pork stew, tilapia fillet in a sweet pineapple sauce and adobo are also on the menu. Adobo is a perfect dinner for the entire family, braised pork or chicken simmered in soy sauce and vinegar, garlic, bay leaves and black peppercorn. Adobo is a true Filipino experience because it originated in the Philippines prior to colonization. Ancestors would often cook adobo, before foreigners arrived to the Philippines.

For dessert, Gretchen graciously treated us to ube, a purple yam bursting with flavor and color used in sweet dishes. The bright purple Filipino ice-cream is available for purchase by the pint at their grocery store. Our experience was a two part adventure, as we headed over to the Phil-Am Foods just across the street. The shelves are stocked with everything needed to recreate traditional Filipino cuisine, or just to jazz up a meal. Ingredients such as jasmine white scented rice, calamansi juice, ginger, watermelon seeds and candy to snack on. Eventually we made our way to the freezer section where you could find ube in mango salted caramel flavor. I was most excited about this particular discovery and I couldn’t resist taking one home with me.
The experience at Phil-Am Kusina is worth dining out for, and the friendly faces you encounter, such as Gretchen, is equivalent to an extra scoop of delicious ube.

A huge thank you to our local immigrant restaurant owners bringing us recipes from back home. Without folks like Gretchen’s Aunty, New York wouldn’t be the widely diverse experience it is. Finding authenticity is not about traveling to far lands, it’s about acknowledging culture in your own backyard.

Visit:
Phil-Am Kusina
556 Tompkins avenue
Staten Island, NY — 10305
Phone: (718) 727 3663

Hours:
Mon, Tues: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Wed: Closed
Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun:  11:00 am - 9:00 pm

Dedicated to Gretchen’s Aunty.

About the Author

"My two loves are food and writing. My best memories are visiting new restaurants with my boyfriend, we love Vietnamese and Italian. Writing for Uncle Sam’s was an amazing opportunity and I hope to become a journalist and help inform people through my writing and research."

Social Media: Twitter handle “_myamanda”

 Spicy Zest Restaurant

In a nondescript strip mall in Farmers Branch, a suburb of Dallas, sits the state of Texas’ first Sri Lankan restaurant, Spicy Zest. It is a very small restaurant with bright walls, festive wall hangings and just a few tables. It feels almost as if you are eating in someone's home due to the hospitality and cozy feel of the restaurant. Sri Lanka is a picturesque island nation in the Indian Ocean 40 miles from India, known for very flavorful and spicy dishes unfamiliar to most Americans.

Chef-owner of Spicy Zest Nimidu Senaratne is a Sri Lanka native with a very interesting background. Chef Senaratne’s uncle owned small resorts and he grew up working in these resorts. He received a diploma in Hotel Management from the Swiss Lanka Hotel School in Sri Lanka, and subsequently, obtained an advanced diploma in Food & Beverages conducted by City & Guilds Institute in the UK. Senartne then left Sri Lanka at the age of 22 to move to Singapore and work at Sentosa Island Resort and to study hospitality. He was responsible for very large banquet catering there as well as studying for the Advanced Diploma in Hotel Management at Bristol Business School. His future wife Chamari Walliwalagedra, also from Sri Lanka, was studying in the US and would eventually get her PhD in Chemistry from Cleveland State University.  Chef Senaratne moved to Cleveland to further his education and received a degree in Food and Restaurant Management. While studying for his degree, he also worked extensively for the Hilton and Marriott corporations.

Chef Senaratne moved to Dallas in 2013 and he and his wife started Spicy Zest first as a home based catering business, a passion-project he had always wanted to pursue. As the business grew, he then opened his own restaurant in 2016 in Farmers Branch, first as a take-out only spot without any tables. Senaratne concentrated on Sri Lankan traditional specialities and his own “fusion” takes on the food from his childhood. He uses imported spices from Sri Lanka, no preservatives, fresh ingredients and antibiotic free meat. Word of mouth and local press spread the word of the tastiness of the food, and in 2016 he added tables to become a full sit down restaurant. While Senaratne struggled to pay the overhead the first year, he refused to compromise on quality of ingredients to make his delectable and unique food.

The first several years Senaratne struggled to make Spicy Zest a successful venture. He was working long hours seven days a week and barely getting by. Staffing was a big issue and it was often hard to cover the bills. Despite his struggles, Chef Senaratne was committed to his vision of bringing Sri Lankan food to the United States while maintaining his incredibly high standards for his food. Over time, his staffing issues have improved and he has hired another Sous Chef from his native Sri Lanka. More recently, he also has added business lunch catering that has been very popular and helped the business to become more profitable. Chef Senaratne is not afraid of criticism and welcomes opinions and ideas to help make his business more successful. His extensive hospitality background makes him a chef who is able to look at both the culinary and the business part of owning a restaurant.

When you walk in to Spicy Zest you feel very welcome right away. Frequently, either Chef Senaratne or his wife will walk you through the menu and the types of Sri Lankan dishes to be sampled. On a very hot Tuesday night in August, we were one a few tables occupied but there were many others coming in for take out. We started with fresh baked buns out of the oven stuffed with Seeni Sambol (onion confit) and others stuffed with fish. Don’t forget to try the egg hoppers if available as a starter. This staple of Sri Lankan cuisine is like a savory thin crepe with a soft boiled egg in the middle. It is served with condiments on the side and is eaten like a taco. The mutton Kottu is a favorite of mine. It is a traditional Sri Lankan dish of tender cubed mutton, Sri Lankan roti flatbread, carrots, onions, eggs and a curry spice blend. It is savory and spicy comfort dish. The lamprais is a generous mixture of rice, vegetables and meat rolled into a banana leaf and steamed. We opted for the pork lamprais and it was outstanding and filling. Also very popular is the deviled beef, which is seasoned & marinated for 48 hours then pan fried till crispy with vegetables and a sauce that is spicy, tangy and a little sweet.

Due to his time in Singapore, Chef Senaratne also offers the Indonesian fried rice with seafood and pineapple called Nasi Goreng. You must leave room for a little Watalapppan at the end of your meal. Watalappan is a rich Sri Lankan flan-like custard with notes of cardamom and nutmeg. If you can’t decide on what to try, then I recommend the weekend buffet which has an array of menu items to tempt your palate.

Senartne’s hope is to expand to a larger location in the near future. His goal is to have as many people as possible experience the incredible flavors of his native cuisine. WIth the amazing and unique flavor profile of his dishes, hopefully more will be able to discover the hospitality that Sri Lankan cuisine and Chef Senaratne has to offer.

Visit:
Spicy Zest
Location: 13920 Josey Ln suite 107, Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Phone: 469-629-9191
Hours: Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat 11:00 AM - 9:45 PM,
Sunday 11:00 AM - 6:30 PM
Closed: Mon & Thur

About the Author:

Liam Conner is a junior in high school at Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. He has a lifelong love of learning about other cultures, especially exploring cultures by trying their native food and learning about their food customs. Liam went to Taiwan in March of 2019 on a cultural exchange and made a podcast about the food of the Night Markets. Liam plans on majoring in International Studies in college with a concentration in South & Southeast Asia and continuing to try any new ethnic restaurant he can find along his way.