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Most Washingtonians probably know a thing or two about Ethiopian food. But cuisines from elsewhere on the African continent? They’re relatively unknown here.
Tunde Wey wants to at least introduce people to dishes from his native country of Nigeria.
Wey is one of the founders of a Detroit restaurant called Revolver that rotates through a series of guest chefs every weekend. He recently sold his shares in the business to his partner and decided to travel. A friend invited him on a road trip from Detroit to New Orleans. “I was like, ‘I’m here, I should cook.'” So he hosted a few pop-up dinners featuring the Nigerian food he grew up with. Next, he went to visit some friends Chicago, where he hosted more meals. Then it was Minneapolis. He decided he should just keep going “like Forrest Gump.”
D.C. is next on the itinerary of his roaming dinner series called Lagos, named after the Nigerian city where Wey grew up. He’s on a bus from Buffalo, N.Y. today. He’s already sold out a Sunday dinner at Toki Underground. But tickets for a Saturday feast at food incubator Mess Hall are still available for $85 (which includes cocktails).
Wey, who came to American from Nigeria at age 16, is not a professionally trained chef. Rather, he’s leaning on family recipes.
Goat is featured heavily in the food, as are ingredients like coconuts, smoke crayfish, plantains, and Maggi, a brand of chicken bouillon cube. The family-style meal will include goat head stew, goat pepper soup, a sweet bean and coconut soup called frejon, jollof rice (rice stewed in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, and onions), fried plantains, and more.
“A lot of what was popular when I was working in Detroit was very fancy, quote-unquote ‘beautifully plated’ food that had to be served in a certain way, that had to be accompanied by a certain kind of wine or music,” he says. But when Wey was growing up, he says the only conversations around food were “Was it burnt? Was it salty?” That got him thinking about the different conventions around food.
“It’s just honest, unpretentious food,” Wey says. “Nigerian food for me was the perfect medium to be able to, if not openly discuss these things, at least frame the conversation through the presentation of the food and the dinners.”
CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, this story initially stated that Lagos is the capital of Nigeria. It is not the capital of Nigeria; it is the city where Wey grew up.
Photos courtesy Tunde Wey