By Simi Iluyomade
Positioned right outside the Nigerian embassy in Midtown sits Divine Flavored, a food truck specializing in the unique taste of Nigerian cuisine. It’s hard to find an authentic Nigerian or West African food spot in New York, despite the fact that so many people in the city identify with the region. Divine Flavored started as a catering company, but after finding themselves delivering food to the Nigerian embassy so often, decided to open a food truck right in front, attracting Nigerians in diaspora, as well as the curious New York foodie on their way back from work.
The menu consists of Naija classics, ranging from small snacks to the types of heavy meals that can put you to sleep. A personal favorite is puff puff and plantain with bitter lemon to wash it down. Unlike most Nigerian households, Divine Flavored has vegetarian options, as well as foods that will not burn the tongues of those unaccustomed to the amount of pepper used in most meals. Of course, there is meat, and lots of it. In Manhattan, it’s nearly impossible to find goat meat and oxtail to cook, yet they offer stewed meat with nearly every meal. Quite often the skin is still on the goat meat, but of course in America you need to make concessions. The larger meals, such as jollof rice with stewed meat or fish, are the most expensive items on the menu, usually priced at fifteen dollars. Smaller items, like fried plantain, only cost about five dollars. Jollof rice, a West African favorite, can be hit or miss. The simple rice, mixed with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and scotch bonnets, has been an area of contention amongst West Africans regarding which country makes the best jollof. Personally, I believe it all depends on who makes the rice, regardless of their country of origin. The jollof rice at Divine Flavored, however, may just put Nigeria at the top of the list. Nothing beats home cooking, but the authenticity and burst of flavor evident in the rice, along with the sides of meat and plantain, give it a home-cooked taste unusual in catered food. For dessert, puff puff is the first thing to look for on the menu. The big balls of fried dough may not be the healthiest food option out there, but they truly are for everyone. These dense balls of fried delight have hints of nutmeg or cinnamon, adding to the sweetness of the simple treat. Lastly, the beverage options at Divine Flavored are unlike anywhere else. There are the obvious options, like orange juice, water, and soda. However, the food truck also offers Nigerian classics like bitter lemon and palm wine, usually only found in the most authentic of African grocery stores. The strong, citric taste of bitter lemon can accompany any food, but the sweet, rich taste of Vitamalt is always a good idea.
In a city as diverse as New York, it is seemingly easy to find the cuisine of your origins on any street corner. Though this is true in some cases, more often than not, finding authentic foods from home can be a challenge, especially when it comes to African cuisine. Of course, there are restaurants specializing in African cuisine, but that is precisely the problem. Rather than having restaurants that specialize in Somali or Ivorian foods, all the tastes and flavors of an entire continent are lumped into one menu. Divine Flavored has made it a little easier for Nigerians in the city to find that much-needed taste of home, whether home is a bus ride or an ocean away.