Lookman Mashood went traveling throughout the southern states of Nigeria, searching for authentically prepared food. “I wanted to experience things from the source,” he told me one afternoon. Outgoing and friendly, Mashood, owner of Buka, a Nigerian restaurant, is a handsome, bespectacled man with a salt-and-pepper beard, sporting a hipster-style thin-brimmed straw hat. (Very Brooklyn.)
A bit tired from fasting during Ramadan, he nevertheless had energy to discuss his experiences with food, both in Nigeria and here in the United States. A self-taught chef and an admitted foodie like myself, he started working at small eateries in New York. His cooking was so good that more and more people started showing up for his food. “I pride myself on being traditional,” he tells me, in regards to his Nigerian cuisine.
Inspired by his successes, he opened up his own restaurant, Buka, on Fulton Street in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn.
For appetizers, I sampled the suya, thinly sliced beef dusted with peanut, ginger, suya (a Nigerian spice), and herbs. It is grilled and served with onions. I dipped the meat in a special blend of dried spices that were served on the side. The spiced meat was delectable and grilled to perfection.
The jollof rice, a West African rice pilau, is a tomato-based dish made with butter, onions, pepper and secret spices. (Since there is a lot of competition among Nigerian chefs for the best jollof, Lookman declined to tell me exactly what blend of spices he uses. Understandable!) The rice is divine.
Fufu is served with goat and egusi, a delectable sauce made with ground melon seeds, spinach and dried fish. A colorful orange and green dish, the egusi is warm, lightly spiced and delicious. Fufu, a staple in Nigeria, is made with fresh white yams, and has the consistency of firm mashed potatoes. It is the perfect accompaniment to all the delectable sauces. Breaking off a piece, I dipped it in the egusi. The goat is delicious and tender. I also had the efo, finely shredded spinach with sautéed onions and dried fish. It tastes great with the goat and fufu.
The chef’s favorite dish is the tuwo. Made with cornmeal fufu, it is served with palava and gbegiri sauces. The palava is a green leaf “draw soup”; the gbegiri is a honey bean stew, originating in the northern part of Nigeria. Also popular is the panla, a dried codfish dish served with fufu and your choice of sauce.
I love the fresh ginger juice, which is made with honey and ice. Made in-house, it is refreshing and does not interfere with the delectable flavors of the food. If it’s late enough, and if you are so inspired, you may want to try the African viagra, which is a combination of bitter herbs and gin. (Not sure what effect it would have on me, a slight woman.)
Taking me to the back of the restaurant, Mashood proudly shows me a yellow bus, much like a minivan. The bus was the most popular form of transportation throughout Nigeria until the mid-1990s. “The bus comes with character,” he explains. Adorning the walls are fabric and clothing from different parts of the country, including a dress from the Igbo tribe and a Yoruba traditional hand-printed piece of fabric.
Buka New York, 946 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY 11238. 347-763-0619 http://www.bukanewyork.com/
Hours: Mon., 4 to 11 p.m.; Tues. -Thurs., noon to 11 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., noon to 1 a.m;