Flavors of East Africa was already known to sambusa-loving farmers market regulars when it opened a permanent restaurant on El Cajon Boulevard about eight years back. Since that time, it’s moved a couple doors down into a larger, much brighter space, with vibrant paint and decor adding to its status as a unique presence in the neighborhood. Where else in North Park can you eat Kenyan food?
2322 El Cajon Blvd, North Park
The place added something a little different to its menu recently: a lunch buffet. Every day, from 11am to 4 pm, $12.99 covers all-you-can-eat access to richly seasoned foods. Given that its regular entrees average about 14 bucks apiece, the new lunch deal rings a bargain.
Don’t expect the restaurant’s pricier items to make an appearance. Sumptuous lamb, goat, and oxtail dishes run around 18 dollars, and for those you’ll still need to order off the regular menu. But if you’re a fan of chicken or vegetable dishes, this is a delicious introduction to the Flavors of East Africa.
Along with sambusas, a popular staple of its still-going farmers market stands is the African-by-way-of-the-Caribbean dish, Jerk chicken. The result of escaped slaves in Jamaica combining African cooking with local ingredients used by Arawak natives, Jerk combines a little chili pepper heat with what we think of as holiday spices such as cinnamon and allspice. Flavors makes a terrific recipe — two actually. The buffet offers both regular and extra spicy Jerk chicken.
The savory, turmeric-spiced yellow curry closely resembles Indian examples of the dish. About 2500 miles of Arabian Sea separate Kenya and India, but both were part of the British empire. When, at end of the 19th century, Britain began building railroads in East Africa, millions of Indians immigrated to Kenya and its surrounding regions as tradesmen and labor. So a fair amount of Kenyan cuisine has marked influence of Indian cuisine, which explains the similarities between the savory hand pies, sambusas and samosas.
Similarities turn up the vegan dishes here too, such as the dengu lentil curry, made with coconut milk, and the biringanya, which is Swahili for eggplant, prepared here with a spiced tomato stew base. My favorite to say and eat is nyoyo, a mix of mostly kidney beans and hominy, seasoned and sautéed with tomato and garlic. I soaked up all these saucy veggie dishes with the sour and spongy Ethiopian flatbread, injera. Tight little rolls of it were also furnished in the buffet.
So were salad fixings and fruit, plus two rice dishes: pilau (another Indian dish, with kidney beans and quinoa added), and wali (made yellow by turmeric, with seasoning including bay leaf). The buffet plates were a little small, so I loaded up two of them for my first pass. This buffet immediately joined the conversation for my favorite in San Diego, and definitely in the vicinity of North Park.