In the heart of South Bombay, nestled next to Gol Masjid, is placed the restaurant that has given the city’s Nigerians a tender taste of home for over a decade. However, even if a person entered Green Onion for their Nigerian cuisine they would be hardpressed to find any indication the restaurant served African food.
Even I, who specifically went to Green Onion to try their Nigerian Fufu, was rather concerned that I had entered the wrong joint. The restaurant’s ambience was clearly Chinese; the waiter was Chinese, and he handed me a Chinese menu. After desperately flipping through the menu several times I beckoned the waiter over and half-heartedly murmured, “Where is the Fufu?” I was sure the elderly Chinese man would offer me a bewildered expression instead of anything remotely Nigerian. Instead, he pulled out a laminated, yellow sheet from a drawer with the words ‘Nigerian Menu’ printed in huge, red type.
My quest to uncover Bombay’s Nigerian cuisine had led me to an unlikely spot and my excitement for a good meal was deteriorating faster than Donald Trump’s sense of integrity. Even though I was relieved the restaurant actually served Fufu, I was deeply concerned about the quality of African food being served in a place that seemed to be dedicated to serving up Dumplings and Chow Mein. I kept on asking myself, “Why on earth does a Chinese restaurant have a secret Nigerian menu?”
When the food eventually arrived I could smell the Goat Stew before it was placed in front of me. Like all good stews the meat, which is the pièce de résistance of any non-vegetarian stew, gave off the distinctive aroma of goat slow cooked to perfection. The scent of masala, nutmeg, red chilis and a hint of sweetness from the tomato-based sauce trailed in the wake of the succulent, redolence of the goat.
After being teased by the pleasant odour my belly grumbled with joy at the sight of a healthy portion of tender goat chunks bathed in an enormous vessel of stew. Just as my confidence in Green Onion was beginning to be restored out came the Fufu. It was a large, squishy roll of semolina, and strongly resembled ten idlis smushed together in an unrealistically, large phallic shape. It was also saran wrapped. The waiter noticed my confused expression, smiled and said “very sticky” before leaving me just as dumbfounded.
There was nothing left to do but undress my large idli-like roll of Fufu and dip a morsel into the steaming, red sauce. In a mere moment all my hopes and dreams for Fufu had come true. The awkward, squishy Fufu was the perfect vehicle for absorbing the vibrant goat stew, soaking up the spicy sauce as if it was a sponge. Moreover, the texture of the Fufu worked wonderfully with the soft chunks of goat. Now I understood why Nigerians chowed down Fufu with almost every meal. It also may be the most fun food to order, as you can see even while writing I cannot hold back my urge to say Fufu in every sentence.
After I sopped up my meal, I had to parcel half of the Goat Stew and Fufu as well as unbuckle my belt. An order of each is plenty for two people and I was a one man show. To be fair Fufu was probably the most dense carb-dish I’d ever had. Even though my appetite had been satiated, I still wasn’t satisfied with an explanation for why this Chinese restaurant served a separate Nigerian menu I had to explicitly ask for. I summoned Mr. Chao, my affable Chinese waiter, and began to pelt him with questions.
He happily entertained my curiosity and explained that around a decade ago Colaba’s Nigerian population was rather large, mostly made up of medical tourists and traders. At that time many Nigerians stayed in the hotel above Green Onion. Both the restaurant and hotel were owned by a welcoming Muslim woman. Her guests, who often stayed in India for months on end, had become rather homesick and frequently urged her to offer Nigerian food options.
The owner then devised a mutually beneficial proposition. She asked the Nigerian women to teach her their favourite homeland recipes, promising to serve them in her restaurant after she mastered the dishes. From then on a Muslim-owned Chinese restaurant has been serving up Nigerian food - a strange, yet brilliant confluence of culture.