The Price of keeping Asian Cuisine authentic in Lagos
In the last few years, the restaurant scene in Lagos, Nigeria has grown in diversity and numbers. One can easily access Mexican, Bulgarian, Lebanese, Mongolian, and the ever-present Chinese cuisine. There are stand-alone Oriental restaurants offering Thai and Indian cuisine. But for the first time in Lekki, a new restaurant has stepped up to offer a fusion of these two experiences.
For the past year, the restaurant has been fine tuning its operations, preparing for the right moment to open its doors to the public. The chef, who is Indian, insists on using spices sourced from India and Thailand.
While it is true that TRS Foods spices packaged in London can be satisfactory for home cooking, to attract diners and a loyal clientele, a restaurant must distinguish itself.
Fortunately, the owners of this restaurant have a large network of friends who shuttle between India, Thailand, and Nigeria. In suitcases and cargoes, they convey spices from Asia’s largest spice market in Delhi and keep an ingredients’ scarcity at bay. Continuing with this model will not be sustainable and Peppercorn Avenue’s management knows this. Seeds have been brought from a select Asian countries to Nigeria and are currently being nursed in a little garden behind the restaurant.
Radhaki Ghanwani, Peppercorn Avenue’s Kitchen and Dining Room manager comments on how the sleepy state of agriculture affects the restaurant business. “With such good rainfall in the country, you would think that there would be an ample supply of the fresh vegetables and spices that we need.” To keep costs low at restaurants such as this, key players in the Agricultural sector would need to cash in on what can be grown here as opposed to being imported.
A lot of creativity and research goes into the menu offered at Peppercorn Avenue. For one, the Ganderhi Kebab gives diners an experience of taking bites of well-spiced chicken off a sturdy and sweet stick of sugarcane. Most of the dishes served in this restaurant are accompanied with a trio of chutneys. The strongly-flavored Coriander and Mint chutney has spicy undertones and is known to cleanse the palate, while stimulating your appetite; Tamarind adds a sweet kick to dish; and the Sweet Yoghurt chutney creates a perfect balance between the two.
Admitting that most Nigerians are not familiar with Indian cuisine, Radhaki who has lived in the country for more than 15 years has eaten regularly at Lagos’ Indian restaurants.
“You will find a lot of mixing in Chinese flavors, which tones down the roots of the dish. At Peppercorn Avenue, we want more people to come and taste the true flavors of India”.
Thus, it does not come as a surprise that the target market for this restaurant is Nigerians, not Indians. Gone are the times when people would accept anything with a heavy hand of curry added as Indian cuisine.
The restaurant’s bright light fixtures is proof that the owners take customers’ feedback very seriously. Most Indian restaurants in Lagos have dark lighting often done in an attempt to transform these spaces from restaurants at day to clubs at night. Radhika laughs as she recounts the number of times her husband has been known to pull out his glasses in order to read the menu at these poorly lit restaurants.
True, the combination of good food and music is a huge attraction in the city and plans are underway to incorporate that experience into this new restaurant.
A younger demographic has been recruited to work in shifts during the restaurant’s open hours from 12:30pm to 11:00pm, 7 days a week. The unpleasant customer service experience prevalent in the country has been the bane of many otherwise good restaurants. Staff have been recruited and trained months in advance familiarizing them with the restaurant’s offerings.
As I placed an order for Masala Tea to accompany my Pad Thai Noodle Dish, I am cautioned to order a lighter drink. This ingenuously Indian beverage is heavy on milk and does not pair well when eating a lot at dinner.
Impressed, I switch to the Rose Lassi.
For the food loving crowd in Lagos, the entrance of restaurants such as Peppercorn Avenue is a breath of fresh air. For the adventurous, the possibility of eating meals prepared in a Tandoor oven is no longer far-fetched. While the familiar spices and juices of Thai cuisine would soothe those who want to eat within their comfort zones. Still, a trace of worry lingers about how this restaurant, which is hinged on authenticity can sustain its existing supply model in the face of fluctuating governmental rules and regulations combined with rising foreign exchange rates.
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