Duke City’s first African/Caribbean restaurant
First visit: March 23, 2012
Every now and then, something new and different pops up on the local food scene. African food right here in Albuquerque? You better believe it.
Talking Drums opened here in February 2012 and it fills a long-standing void. Those of us who are accustomed to Mexican and New Mexican spicing will find this cuisine refreshingly delicious, even though there are no New Mexican chiles used in its preparation. You can get your picante on with the unique spicing of West Africa.
Talking Drums Restaurant is the first African Restaurant in Albuquerque.The name is derived from one of the West African methods of communicating, especially during a festive occasion and nothing is more festive in Africa than sharing foods. The restaurant is a subsidiary of Zenith African Caribbean Market, the only African store that has been serving New Mexico and Arizona, with grocery, clothing, beauty products, arts and crafts, needs for over 10 years; and will continue to do so.
Nigerian cuisine consists of dishes or food items from the hundreds of ethnic group that comprise the West African nation of Nigeria. Like other West African cuisines, it uses spices, herbs in conjunction with palm oil or groundnut oil to create deeply-flavoured sauces and soups often made very hot with chili peppers. Nigerian feasts are colourful and lavish, while aromatic market and roadside snacks cooked on barbecues or fried in oil are plentiful and varied.
For our first visit, our delightful server, Alex, carefully explained the unusual (to us, at least) menu. He quickly determined that we were asbestos mouths, and steered us toward some of the spicier dishes. He somehow knew that we would like them, and his choices for us were right on the money.
African Spiced Suya — Grilled Beef Skewers
Suya is a Nigerian shish kebab (roasted skewered meat), but with a particularly African twist: a peanut-spice rub. It is believed that suya originated with the Hausa people in the Northern Nigeria, but they are popular all over Nigeria. In big cities and small towns, the suya vendors at their pits (grills) are at the center of the action, and they are busy from mid morning until late at night. Suya are usually made with beef, sometimes chicken or veal is used. Suya can be made with just meat, ground peanuts, and cayenne pepper, but more elaborate spice mixtures are also used.
You must try this dish. The spicing and grilling are expertly done. The combination of spices explodes in your mouth, and no element dominates. You can (and should) do this at home from this recipe. Great on the Weber (charcoal, nor propane, please).
Chicken, veggie, and beef meat pies are a must. I had the shredded beef, nicely spiced. Somewhat like empanadas, these turnovers are very savory, and would make a fine lunch with a ginger beer. Or dinner. Or breakfast.
Ginger beer? Reggae Country Style Brand ginger beer (get yours at Walmart) is my friend Adric Menning’s second-favorite. I need to ask him which is his favorite. Could it be Reed’s? Probably not, because I think Reggae, the best I can remember, is far superior to Reed’s.
Pepper Soup with Goat
Pepper soup is a light soup made from a mix of meat or fish and a mix of herbs and spices. This is one of the few soups in Nigerian cuisine that can be drunk alone and not as a sauce for a carbohydrate main dish such as fufu or pounded yam. Talking Drums serves this beautiful vegetable-containing broth with goat, fish, or assorted meat (tripe and entrails). Don’t let the description turn you away: these soups are wonderful.
The goat version is very spicy, with black and red pepper adding to the heat. It will pop beads of sweat on your brow. You can make this at home with this recipe.
The pepper soup may help me break my Phở addiction.
Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica in which meat is dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a very hot spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning is traditionally applied to pork and chicken. Modern recipes also apply jerk spice mixes to fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage, lamb, and tofu. Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called “pimento” in Jamaica) and Scotch bonnet peppers (among the hottest peppers on the Scoville scale). Other ingredients include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, and salt.
Jerk cooking and seasoning has followed the Caribbean diaspora all over the world, and forms of jerk can now be found at restaurants almost anywhere a significant population of Caribbean descent exists, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or the United States. French Caribbean’s “Poulet boucané” is quite similar to traditional Jamaican jerk chicken.
The version here consists of two ginormous flattened pieces of boneless chicken rubbed with this aromatic jerk and served atop a generous heap of correctly done white rice and topped with caramelized onions. This jerk chicken sets the standard for the Duke City. Once you try it, nothing else will come close. It’s that good.
I will go back to Talking Drums anytime. Call me if you want company.
What others are saying
“Quiet strength. That uplifting affirmation, inscribed on a framed poster, hangs on a wall at Talking Drums, Albuquerque’s very first African restaurant. It provides inspiration to and could have been written about Toyin Oladeji, the risk-taking proprietor, chef and daring entrepreneur who’s betting the Duke City is ready for the incomparable cuisine of her homeland. Toyin (who’s mistakenly called Toni so often, she goes by that name) already provides one niche service, owning and operating the only African store in New Mexico and Arizona. Her Zenith African Caribbean Market has been serving the area with groceries, clothing, beauty products, arts and crafts for more than a decade. In launching Talking Drums, she’s filling another niche.
“Because I don’t have a drum to do my talking for me, this review will have to suffice. Talking Drums is an exciting find, one adventurous diners should not miss. Before you leave the premises, visit the Zenith African Caribbean Market next door and pick up African and Caribbean comestibles.”
Adric Menning — Urbanspoon Reviewer
“Wow! That was good!
“While I still quietly pine for some tasty Ethiopian Injera in this town, i will happily eat more food like we had tonight! I had the Peanut Soup, which came with this huge potato (African yam not those orange american things) ball in the middle, topped with some goat meat. Meat was very tender, the soup was more of a curry broth. very smooth and spicy at the same time, it was the perfect companion for the potato ball!
Also was able to find my 2nd most favorite Ginger beer there! My dad ordered some of their fried bean balls, and some peppered chicken gizzards, (i know its odd, but the man is odd! But to the credit of their cook they were tender and tasty!
“This place is going on my list of great places to go try totally new things!”
Talking Drums African Cuisine