Monday, April 22, 2013

Restaurant Review - Safari Njema (Kenyan Cuisine)

The fact that this place prompted me to review a restaurant after close to two years is endorsement enough for the experience, isn't it? 

+Veni and I moved to Seattle last August and have explored the Seattle food scene quite extensively. From the more talked about seafood joints in Pike Place Market to some of the best Puerto Rican & Mexican places in Ballard, from Indian buffets to a variety of brunch places all over the city. However, in terms of African food our experience so far was entirely limited to the more popular Ethiopian 'family combos' - their version of the thali, where everyone eats out of a large plate, with a Injera wheat bread serving as the base, along with different kinds of meat and vegetables.

This afternoon we made some amends to that by visiting this cosy, little Kenyan restaurant in Central District - Safari Njema. A quick Yelp search for African places had this in the top results, and the unanimous verdict seemed to be great people, great food, not-so-great speed of service.

Veni in front of Safari Njema
We were welcomed into the restaurant by George, a most friendly person, who we soon realized was wearing the hats of the manager, server and chef! He patiently took us through the menu, with some historical backgrounds of the items and made some recommendations as well.

A lion hearted menu!

The restaurant is painted in a very lively orange colour and the walls are adorned with traditional African paintings. In fact most of them are for sale, so you can have your food and take some art too. There's ample seating area and though it was empty when we arrived, well past lunch time in these parts of the world, while we were there quite a few regulars came in.

The brightly coloured interiors and the paintings
Then started the 45 minutes wait. We totally understand that running a restaurant all by oneself is no mean feat, but given it was close to 2:30 PM and we hadn't had any breakfast the hunger pangs were forcing mean thoughts into our heads! Sometime later the Chef - Jane Kagira and a young man - Eli - who started serving the tables and managing the cash counter, came in and provided George some much needed help. 

The first dish to arrive was the health drink, who's three letter name I can't remember for the life of me. It was like a very sour gruel, reminded me somewhat of the texture of barley, and Chef Jane informed us that it's made of millet, naturally fermented. Apparently it keeps the skin young and fresh.

The health drink whose name I forget. Shameful!
The entrees were completely worth the wait. The Samaki (deep fried Tialpia fish in a spicy, coconut gravy) was actually this massive, whole fish that came on the plate, far more macho than the usual fillets we are used to by now. Even by my exalted standards it managed to provide a worthy challenge. The homemade coconut gravy that came along with had this fantastic tangy and spicy feel to it, which further accentuated the tangy spices that was used to garnish the fish. The entree came along with Ugali (a form of African corn bread, was more like grits though) and Sukuma mix (collard greens and spinach). 

The fried Tialpia with collard greens and cornbread
The Mbusi (fried goat meat) was well cooked, and the meat was falling off the bones. I don't think we could recognize all the spices used in preparing the goat but all of them came together rather nicely and hit the spot. This was accompanied by some stir fried vegetables and African style French fries, which are not as crispy as the normal American ones.

The melt-in-your-mouth Goat meat and vegetables
The food was too delicious to remember that we were full by the halfway mark. It was a great introduction to a very exciting cuisine, incidentally with strong hints of Indian influence, by some of the most lovely people. And not to forget all of this at very affordable prices. A meal for two will come to ~$30-$40, all inclusive. We will definitely be back there in the near future.


Name: Safari Njema Restaurant
Location: Central District, Seattle [map]
Phone: +1-206-723-3058
Contact: Jane Kagira (Chef)

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