Palattes of Africa is part of the Supafrik pop-up shop and gallery series created by Chinedu Ukabam, the designer behind the African-inspired fashion label Chinedesign. This was the third instalment of Palattes of Africa (previous editions took place in Toronto in 2012 and Paris in 2013), and this time it was
The venue for Palattes of Africa was inside the Edward Day Gallery, which is located beside the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). After receiving an e-mail the morning of the event cautioning us not to be late, we arrived early and staked out a spot in the shade of the MOCCA courtyard. After a few minutes of waiting in the heat, we were excited (and relieved) to have our first taste of the menu brought out to us: a tamarind cocktail garnished with a generous slice of pear. Soon after finishing our sweet drinks, we were led inside to the gallery and took our seats at one of five communal tables. At our place settings we were greeted by a small card that was a detailed menu on one side and was a feedback card on the reverse, asking us to rate each dish on a scale of 1 to 10 and also to write down what each taste reminded us of. We were also each provided with a glossary of terms/ingredients that related to our menu, which was an incredibly helpful and considerate idea for those attending who were unfamiliar with West African and Brazilian cuisine.
Our first appetizer was an African salad, made of chopped kale, abacha (cassava strips), sweet peppers, garden egg (African eggplant) and a honey-citrus dressing. It was as light and tasty as it was colourful. Our second appetizer was akara (also known as koose), which is a deep-fried ball made from de-hulling water-soaked brown or black-eyed beans. Normally it is served as part of a breakfast meal with bread or porridge, but it was served to us with a tomato-based Nigerian stew topped with red onion slivers. This dish was an early highlight of the meal, absolutely delicious! While we waited for out next course to be served, we were introduced to the visual artist and poet Komi Olaf whose work decorated the gallery walls and provided some lovely and dramatic imagery while we dined. We also had opportunities to browse the Supafrik pop-up shop, which was set-up at the back of the dining area. Our ticket to the event nabbed each attendee a $10 off voucher to purchase whatever colourful garments and accessories their hearts desired. Good deal!
Next up, servers poured us each a dark red-purple drink made from hibiscus flowers, whose name changes depending on where you're drinking it. In Senegal you should order "Bissap", in Nigeria it's called "Zobo", in Ghana you would ask for "Sobolo" and in the Caribbean it's known as "Sorrel". Whatever you call it, it has a ginger-y, almost spicy taste and is very refreshing on hot days. We barely had time to sip our hibiscus drinks before our main courses began making their way to our tables. First up was acarajé (the Brazilian version of akara), shaped like a pancake and served with shrimps, peppers and caramelized onions. This was my favorite dish of the day. Its presentation was beautiful and it tasted unbelievable (it didn't hurt that the ingredients used in this dish are some of my favorites). We barely had time to recover from the acarajé before the next main dish appeared in front of us: stuffed plantains (tostones) with suya-seasoned chicken. Another colourfully-presented dish, which quickly challenged my decision to rank the previous dish the #1 dish of the day*. Delicious! *In retrospect, it's probably more accurate to say the two mains tied for the title of favorite dish.
There were a few unexpected treats in store for us that day, the most exciting for me was that we were going to be served some Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee, courtesy of Sense Appeal Coffee Roasters. Even better news was that it was served iced! Anyone who knows me knows I love my coffee as cold as a Canadian winter and as strong as a Canadian... winter? Suffice it to say, I was very happy with the coffee. It was exactly what I was craving after such a big and flavourful meal. And what is the perfect pairing for coffee? Dessert of course! Our dessert was a sweet tapioca pudding with fresh tropical fruits, topped with roasted peanuts (also known as "groundnuts"). It was a great finishing dish to a spectacular meal. But wait! There was more! Our last unexpected treat of the day was a lovely take-home tote bag, which contained a large container of organic chocolate-covered almonds from food sponsor Mike and Mike's and a Brazilian meat rub from Senses Appeal Coffee Roasters (perhaps a little odd until you check the ingredient list... coffee!). This last batch of treats especially made the $40 ticket price one of the best bargains around town.
So what's up next from the Palattes of Africa team? An organizer told me that an African dinner event and a regional cocktail and wine tasting are in the planning stages so sign up for e-mail alerts on their website, "like" them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter so you can grab tickets once they go on sale. I will see you there!