Angolan fare is not just difficult to track down in NYC, it’s hard to find on the entire Eastern Seaboard. When we called the Consulate General of the Republic of Angola in New York, we were told there was a restaurant specializing in the cuisine — in Massachusetts. Undeterred, we gave that restaurant — Restaurant Luanda — a call, and while owner Amelia Goncalves says she has the only place that serves Lusophone fare (food that comes from countries that were once part of the Portuguese empire) in the Northeast, she did give us suggestions for finding similar food in NYC.
The Portuguese started building a presence in the area of Angola in the fifteenth century, but the country’s colonial claim wasn’t officially recognized by other European powers until the late nineteenth century. Portugal maintained power up until 1975, so there’s a strong Portuguese influence in the food. “There’s more Portuguese influence in the food than Angolan dishes,” says Goncalves. “Still, we have traditional dishes that families in Angola cook on weekends.”
Muamba de galinha is the national dish; it’s a stew of whole chicken with palm paste, okra, garlic, and palm oil hash. The plate is typically served with rice or funge, a porridge made from yucca flour (manioc). Calulu is another regular dish; it’s dried fish with vegetables (onions, tomatoes, okra, sweet potatoes, garlic) most likely served with rice, funge, palm oil beans, and farofa, a mix of rice and beans with toasted manioc flour on top. Mufete — grilled tilapia served with sweet potato, yucca, and palm oil beans — is traditionally served at weddings.
Strong condiments and tropical ingredients are found throughout the fare. Palm oil and palm paste are frequently used with garlic, onion, and other spices to flavor dishes. Yucca is ubiquitous. Beans and rice are very common. Fish, pork, chicken, sweet potato, tomatoes, and okra are spread throughout the dishes.
Goncalves was born in Angola, but her family immigrated there from Cape Verde before migrating again to the United States. The area in which she lives, about 45 minutes from Boston, has a large population of people from similar backgrounds. Many are from countries that were previously colonized by Portugal, so the food is similar. That’s not to say it’s the same, though; Goncalves says there’s more corn in Cape Verdean fare, while yucca reigns supreme in Angola. She believes the culinary traditions of Mozambique are more in line with Angola’s.
Brazilian cuisine is also similar, especially that of Salvador, Bahia, because of the area’s strong West African roots. The state of Bahia was a hub in sugar production, and Salvador was one of the most important ports in the slave trade for centuries, so the slaves brought as much of their food and tradition with them as they could. The region is still known as an epicenter for Afro-Portuguese culture in Brazil. “The food in Angola is very similar to Brazilian food from Salvador do Bahia, where the slaves first came from,” says Goncalves. “Taste the food in Brazilian restaurants, and you’re going to find a similar taste; it’s cooked the same way, same ingredients.”
With that in mind, we set out in New York City to find dishes that were as closely related as possible, which brought us to Casa Restaurant (72 Bedford Street; 212-366-9410). The restaurant features regional Brazilian home-cooking, and dishes on the menu are very similar to customary Angolan meals.
Try the xinxim de galinha, an iconic Afro-Portuguese dish from the state of Bahia that has a lot of common ties to Angola’s muamba de galinha. At Casa, it’s an organic chicken stew scented with tomatoes, cilantro, and onions, and topped with shrimp. White rice comes on the side. Although the flavors are similar, it doesn’t have the okra or squash found in the muamba — muamba, for its part, forgoes the shrimp. Still, it’s pretty close.
Bobó de camarão is a gussied-up Brazilian alternative to northern Angola’s funge de bombo. At Casa, it’s served in the traditional preparation, with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, and shrimp. Cassava, or yucca, is actually native to Brazil, and was introduced to Angolans by the Portuguese. In both places, the yucca meal is used to make a porridge (it’s somewhat similar to polenta). In Angola, it’s usually served with sauce or vegetables — it’s become an everyday staple for poorer households, so shrimp is a luxury, not a given.
If you’re looking to get true Angolan renditions of these dishes, you’ll have to prepare them at home. You can make your own muamba de galinha and funge with this recipe.
New York boasts residents from just about every country in the world, and many of them have opened restaurants dedicated to their homeland cuisine. We’re celebrating the resulting diversity of this city’s dining scene by eating around the globe, from A to Z, without leaving the city limits. Every week, we’ll be hunting down a restaurant that represents a different country, from Afghanistan all the way to Zimbabwe and everywhere in between. Check out our progress in our Globetrotting the City archives.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2015