Chuku’s review: “A wistful summer feel”

Olivia Opara samples the delicious dishes at Seven Sisters’ Nigerian tapas nook, Chuku’s

Eating Nigerian food as tapas is a bit like going to Lagos and everyone speaking with a Spanish accent.

As weird as that sounds, that is truly how eating at Chuku’s, a hip new eatery a stone’s throw from Seven Sisters Station, felt to me as a Nigerian. The atmosphere was chilled out and relaxing, with Nigerian afrobeats playing on loop and an appealing aroma wafting in from the kitchen. The vibrant yet subtle decor made it feel like I had wandered into late summer, as waves of laughter simmered across the restaurant with smiles on the faces of every diner.

I cannot lie and say that the idea of my native cuisine being dished up as tapas did not daunt me – but it was an experience. Typically, we eat swallows (soft starchy doughs eaten with various soups) by hand with a big bowl of soup – my favourite combination being semolina and okra soup. So, when I saw the egusi bowl with three egusi balls on top of dollops of tricolour stews, I initially felt perplexed: I have to eat this with a fork? But I am glad I looked past that and tried it. This new way of eating swallow made me really appreciate how unique our food is. The egusi balls were soft pillows, allowing the tri-colour stews to really shine. The experience took me back to when I used to sit down on the floor with my siblings and eat from the pot together. It took me back home.

I then tried the jollof quinoa that I had been side-eyeing – waiting for that sweet Nigerian party jollof explosion to envelop me – but this did not meet my expectations in more ways than one. Where was the aromatic tatashe blend, the smokey ‘mama put’ embrace one would feel from eating jollof? It tasted somewhat transparent, with the quinoa – translucent like glass – unable to hold the flavour.

As I continued tucking in, the murmurs of spices eventually came through and toro m uto. It was different, a kind of difference that grows on you with every bite, very slowly. As much as I would have preferred the more traditional rice, the quinoa brought its own uniqueness to the well known dish of West-Central Africa. The sinasir and miyan taushe truly transported me through my taste buds. The pumpkin peanut stew on rice cakes felt like Kano in autumn, if Kano was a European city littered with orange, brown and red leaves. It gave me that autumn-esque warmth of a jazz cafe in
late September, early October. It was truly comforting – with the cinnamon sugar and coconut dressed dodo (fried plantain) trapping me in this Nigerian autumn with its delicate sweetness of a spiced latte and contrasting savoury aftertaste.

Bringing me back to a wistful summer feel, the cassava and ata din din was a divine burst of tangy and fiery flavours. The discovery that cassava can be eaten as salty fries made it even better. When paired with the shredded chicken ata din din, the dish whisked me to the bustling food stalls in the village markets back home where you would quickly hop off the okada (motorcycle taxi) to purchase a ‘light chop’ for the journey.

At this point, I was beginning to feel full despite the dainty sizes of the platters but there was still the moi moi (a savoury steamed pudding made from pureed beans) to sample. It was strangely sweet – unlike the more traditional version – but with the usual tender texture.

The closing star of this experience was the chin chin cheesecake. Now, I love cheesecake (despite being lactose intolerant) and when I heard about chin chin – a fried biscuit like snack – being re-envisioned as cheesecake, my interest was piqued. My excitement was met with a rich creamy taste of orange and ginger.

Glancing around the restaurant, to see other people of different cultures and ethnicities tucking into dishes like egusi and ata din din and genuinely enjoying Nigerian food made me realise that this is true diversity. The opportunity to experience other cultures just through food, to me, is a beautiful form of cultural appreciation.

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