Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wasota African Cuisine

I have been attempting to start a blog for months now, but I've gotten hung up on clicking "Publish."

Then I had a meal that made me wish I was a food blogger.

It was that good.

So now I'm a food blogger.

Those of you who were in Austin 10 years ago may remember World Beat Cafe, a Nigerian restaurant near the intersection of MLK and Guadalupe. The concept was quirky but effective: traditional Nigerian cuisine, plus hamburgers and veggie burgers. For a time, I went there every single Thursday, after high school and before my evening community college course. The only difficult part was choosing between a made-from-scratch veggie burger and the yam fufu, a dish of fluffy white mashed yams topped with one of many spicy vegetable stews.

A few years back, the owner closed for personal reasons.

I am an avid cook, and I enjoy experimenting with new cuisines and new ingredients, but I did not know where to begin recreating the thick, hearty soups I used to enjoy atop my fufu. The closing of World Beat Cafe marked an unfillable hole in my Austin dining repertoire.

Then I started researching food trailers. I moved back to Austin this summer after a seven-year hiatus in Oklahoma, and while I was away, every vacant lot in Austin became either condos or a food trailer park. I admit I've been slow on the uptake: marrying a good cook and becoming a pretty-good cook myself has made me an extremely picky restaurant eater. That, plus the general proliferation of new restaurants in our neighborhood, has meant that we haven't had the chance to really explore the year-round carnival of food trailers dotting South Austin.

That is, until I found out the previous owner of World Beat Cafe had opened Wasota African Cuisine, a food trailer at 1209 South First Street.

To set the stage, it was Friday evening. Our newly-one-year-old had been home from daycare for two days with a fever determined to hover around 102 degrees. Not one to rush to the doctor for every little sneeze, I had finally reached the limits of my comfort zone with the wait-and-see approach. We got her scheduled for a 7:50 p.m. doctor's appointment (thank you, Austin Regional Clinic, for keeping real people hours!) and in the meantime needed some quick fuel for her tired parents and exhausted grandparents. So we hit up Wasota. (To be fair, my mom hit up Wasota and brought back take-out containers, so I cannot comment from personal experience on atmosphere/service.)

The five of us (myself, my husband, my parents, and my brother--would be six but our ear-infected daughter was too sick to even try a spoonful of fufu) shared several dishes, and the first thing I will mention is that everything tasted different. We love Indian food and Ethiopian food (both of which are spiced similarly) but, especially when eating vegan, the flavors sometimes run together. But at Wasota, each dish, even with common ingredients, is meticulously, uniquely flavored. The meat-eaters at our table assured me that this held true for their dishes as well.

My long-dreamed-of yam fufu, this time topped with egusi soup, a thick spinach-and-melon-seed stew, exceeded my expectations. The fufu was simple and smooth, as it should be, and the soup was pleasantly thick, intricately flavored, and spicy, but not confrontationally so. I also tasted a platter that consisted of black-eyed peas, spinach, and fried plantains. It bears repeating that everything tasted different. Two spinach dishes, not at all redundant of each other. This one was rich and creamy in the way that only perfectly sauteed fresh spinach can be. Fresh, straightforward, and a great accompaniment to the black-eyed  peas. The plantains stayed surprisingly crisp and solid, despite arriving in a thick tomato sauce.

My meat-eating compatriots tried both the boneless goat, the stewed beef, and a meat pie, as well as the generously portioned vegan dishes, and according to my husband who is especially sensitive to redundancy in cuisine, again, everything tasted different. Despite reinventing himself as a food trailer, the owner continues to provide the same level of conscientiousness I remember from the days of World Beat Cafe. This is not a mediocritized, fast-food version of the old location: it just happens to be on wheels.

And we didn't even try the burgers this time.

To sum it up, if you want a huge variety of reasonably priced Nigerian cuisine lovingly prepared by a really friendly guy, check out Wasota. Ideally, grab a vegan friend, get the egusi soup, get a homemade vegan burger, go halfsies. And while you're at it, give them some good press over at Urbanspoon.

Wasota African Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Any restaurant good enough to turn me into a food blogger and a food trailer aficionado over the course of a single meal should be worth trying.