I had eaten Asian and Arabian food, weird-tasting perhaps because my palate is not really into extra spicy and oily dishes before we sat at this African restaurant in Dubai.
Alkebulan, an African dining hall with nine kitchens serving different kinds of African cuisines is run by a Kenyan, Cyprian Machangoh, who is the head chef.
What hit me first was the shisha menu at the entrance. They have different types and flavours ranging from Sh2,260 (70 dirhams) to Sh3,229 (100 dirhams).
But I was not there for shisha, mine was to quell a craving for real African food. A satisfying meal.
We started with oxtail fried rice as a starter. The oxtail meat was tender and the dish was a fusion of African-Asian cooking where the African ingredients are combined with Asian flavours.
“The meat is highly praised in African households and is usually cooked for lactating mothers and elderly people because of its tenderness. We braise it for around six hours then pull it from the bones,” said Chef Machangoh.
The rice was black from Egypt mixed with Basmati rice and added Kenyan ingredients like black-eyed peas (njahi). It was then infused with Asian white soy—shoyu, sesame oil and spring onions and bean sprouts.
For finishing, the chef added chilli and curry powder giving it a spicy taste and strength of African ingredients.
My main dish was octopus choma served with cassava made with coconut. The dish is from the Kenyan coast where they use a lot of coconut in their dishes, the chef said
Being fresh from the ocean, the octopus is cooked with spices like cloves and a bit of pineapple and oranges to soften it and bring out a creative favour.
After braising for around three hours until it is tender, it is cooked on a grill.
“We sweet the cassava with onions, boil it, and intensify the flavour with cloves, cardamom, and coconut cream to have it savoury and become a bed for the octopus,” said the chef.
The flavour of the coconut combines very well with the taste of the seafood. My colleagues had beef ribs served with ugali.
Alkebulan, whose name means mother of mankind or garden of Eden, has nine restaurants with cuisines from every part of Africa. It also includes the diversity of cultures within the continent like Arabic, French and western.
“All nine restaurants are a representation of Africa. We have one restaurant that has African street food like mutura, samosa, tamiya from Egypt, manisha from South Africa and Kampala’s rolex, which is eggs wrapped in chapati,” said the chef who clocks almost 20 years in professional kitchens.
He has worked with Celebrity Cruises under Royal Caribbean Group, the popular TV cooking series — MasterChef and an Asian French fusion restaurant in Downtown, Dubai.
The ingredients are sourced from all over the world including Kenya, Ghana, Egypt, Cameroon, South Africa, and Oman.
“We sometimes have supply delays on deliveries when the country goes out of stock. But we ensure we have a rotating menu for instance goat from Kenya to substitute fish from Ethiopia,” the chef adds.
The prices range from Sh1,500 (50 AED) to Sh3,090 (100 AED) however some side dishes like roasted plantains or sweet potatoes fries would cost 30 AED (Sh900) while Nairobi samosa goes for 35 AED (Sh1,050).
The ugali fries served with goat ribs meal is 82AED (Sh2,460).
Shisha is available at the lounge, as it is a culture for diners in Arab countries to enjoy it at restaurants.
“As a chef in a foreign country, you have to understand business trends and what will move volumes. Most people here smoke shisha so it gives them a chance to try our food. And no, the shisha is not African. It’s just an addition to the menu,” Chef Machangoh says.
The restaurant’s interior is designed with the African culture in mind. It has bits of makuti even as it retains modern concept.
“The restaurants attract foreigners most because they find the cuisine unique. Africans grew up with this kind of culture and food,” said Chef Machangoh who started his cooking career when he joined the military at Kenya Airforce in 2003.
The restaurant will open two more branches in Harlem, New York, and London, under the same concept.