- 1043 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY
- (502) 454-5009
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- Mon: 5:30 pm-10:00 pm Tues - Thurs: 11:30 am-9:00 pm Fri - Sat: 11:30 am-10:00 pm Sun: 5:30 pm-10:00 pm
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What better way to appreciate a new and unfamiliar cuisine than to discover what its cooks do with the humblest of pantry staples? In West and Central Africa — as in much of the world — that means tasting bean dishes.
And if the moin moin at Funmi’s Cafe is any indication, the cooks of Nigeria may be some of the most creative in the world. Moin moin, which all sources agree is a Nigerian creation, may not sound all that impressive: It’s a steamed bean cake.
But that’s sort of like saying that cassoulet is a bean casserole; it’s accurate, but incomplete. Moin moin is made from the cowpea (or black-eyed pea), one of the most important food sources in Africa.
There must be hundreds of simple, earthy, recognizable ways to use cowpeas — but moin moin is one of those dishes that find heaven in Earth. The technique — as nearly as I can tell from websites and cookbooks — calls for soaking the beans, peeling them, grinding them into a fine, light paste, mixing in onions (and perhaps hot chilies or other ingredients as well as, say, palm oil), and steaming the concoction in a mold until it finishes with an airy, pudding-like texture.
At Funmi’s, the final product is a shade of pumpkin and arrives at the table dressed with a spicy red house sauce that hints of cumin and chilies and adds a pleasant spicy bite to a remarkable vegan starter that will instantly have you wondering: What other wonderful surprises am I likely to find on this menu?
It turns out there are plenty. Chef-owner Funmi Aderinokun hails from Lagos, Nigeria; cooking, she says, runs in her family. She can trace recipes and a passion for cookery back to a great-grandmother who ran the kitchen for a British family during the country’s colonial era.
Aderinokun loves Nigerian food, but her menu is Pan-African, with dishes drawn not only from the multifaceted cultures of Nigeria but from countries like Ghana, Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Tanzania. Her dishes feature lentils, collards, spinach, peanuts, lamb, goat, chicken, beef, seafood, plantains, rice and chickpeas. Maybe a third of the dishes are vegan.
And though the first iteration of Funmi’s (which was open for a year or so on Baxter Avenue) suffered from a smallish kitchen that sometimes impeded efficient service, the new location, in one of the alcoves of the Gardiner Lane Shopping Center, seems quite efficient (not to mention bright, festive and staffed by folks who really know and are eager to explain the dishes).
Some dishes might need a bit of explanation — like Egusi stew, made from ground melon seed, spinach and a diner’s choice of vegan or meat additions ($11.99-$13.99). But get these plates in front of you and the colors, smells and tastes won’t require any explanation at all.
Thick pieces of chicken (or beef) grilled to perfection, rubbed with a peanut-spice combination and served kebab style on wooden skewers ($6.99) look and taste great.
A bowl of lablabi, a vegan Tunisian soup made with whole chickpeas floating in a rich, herb-flecked broth, is gorgeous ($4.99), though a bowl of chicken soup with chunks of potato and fresh herbs was overwhelmed by a dose of clove so intense that it tasted more like an exotic medicine than a bowl of soup ($6.50).
My pal David and I were in a swoon over two plates of stew: one made from tender, rich chunks of braised goat and veggies ($8.99), the other a plate of efo ati dodo, a vegan tangle of collard greens, onions and other vegetables ($6.99). We requested both dishes “spicy,” and they were — but not spicy enough to obscure the underlying layers of flavor.
A crisp romaine-based salad dressed with a brisk lemon-pepper dressing ($4.99) was an excellent, palate-cleansing foil for the rich flavors of the stews (and on a brisk day a hot cup of zobo, a hibiscus-based tea that can also be had cold) comforted and refreshed.
On another visit, my wife, Mary, and I feasted on peri-peri chicken — marinated in a spicy sauce, grilled to an appetizing char and served with kachumbari, a vividly flavored slaw that pretty much defined the color purple ($12.99), and a couple of other simple delights: adalu ($5.99), a deeply flavored stew made of corn and brown beans with tomatoes and chilies, and Funmi’s house vegan stew ($10.99), a satisfying platter of carrots, spinach, green onions and tofu in a tomato-based sauce with garlic, curry and thyme ($10.99).
Dessert options include puff-puffs (little Nigerian doughnuts drizzled with syrup), sorbets, ice creams, caramelized plantains with ice cream or sorbets. Though alcohol isn’t available yet, Funmi hopes to have her license sometime soon.