When we set out to New Orleans we were excited to stuff ourselves with as much Cajun and Creole food as possible (which we did), but we are always open to a good international meal, no matter where we are. Little did we know that we would get an authentic taste of Africa right in the middle of New Orleans, and actually gain a new country in the process – Gambia! Turns out New Orleans is home to a stalwart African restaurant with roots in both Gambia and Cameroon – Bennachin (1212 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70116).
Bennachin has been in business since 1992, and is a small, homey BYOB restaurant on the western edge of the French Quarter, near the music mecca of Frenchman Street. The menu serves a wide range of meat and veggie-(and even vegan) friendly dishes, divided by type of protein. The dishes are drawn from all across West Africa, but with a particular focus on Cameroon and Gambia (appetizers: $4-6 and mains: $13-20). Many dishes, like Jolloff rice/aka the titular “Bennachin” (a tomato, rice and pepper stew), Yassa (chicken in a light garlic sauce with onion) and Egusi (Ground nut soup) and can be found throughout Western Africa. Other dishes like the Soup-a-kanja (okra soup with fufu) or Domoda (beef and peanut stew),were more pronouncedly Gambian. To draw the connection between New Orleans and Africa even closer, Bennachin is also considered a possible influence on New Orleans staple food Jambalaya.
To stat our meal, w knew we had to try some West African Akara – the predecessor to our beloved Brazilian Acarajé – a black eyed pea patty deep fried in palm oil. The Akara may have been on of our favorites of the night – and despite being fried, it tasted light and fresh. For mains we ordered the Sisay Singho (baked chicken served with plantains and coconut rice) and Ndole (beef in a peanut-ginger sauce). The flavors on our main dishes were, subtle, simple and not too spicy, though if you asked, I’m sure they would add an extra kick (which we would next time). Though in some ways unfamiliar, the combination of garlic and ginger was comforting, and the portion size was generous. For those new to African food, Bennachin offers a non-intimidating introduction into the cuisine of West Africa. If you are looking for a change of pace from the more expected food offerings in the French Quarter, definitely give Bennachin a try – you will feel like you are in another continent!