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If You’re Looking for African Food in Manila, Tee Adams Will Make it For You

December 11, 2014

African cuisine in general, is foreign to me. While there are quite a few restaurants that offer the delicacies common in Northern Africa, the rest of the continent’s flavors are relatively unknown here. I read about it in books, wonder what the flavors of maafe and fufu taste like, and have been on the hunt for something similar in Manila, to no avail. In the most unpredictable of places, in a tiny shack hidden inside a car wash in a village that is no easy feat to get to, Tee Adams makes specialties from his home country of Nigeria, and the region he has left behind.

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Before we sit down with him to eat, Tee has a few words to say about Filipino food. “It’s all unhealthy. The number one problem here is diabetes, but my people are strong because of the food and ingredients we have.” Today he is preparing something extremely traditional, Nigerian staples that are also common in West and Central Africa. Everything is meant to be good for the body and soul, counteracting our Filipino diet. There is too much sugar, fat, and salt, and rice almost every meal of the day, which Tee says shouldn’t be the cornerstones of our meals.

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As a resident of the Philippines for only a few years, Tee struggled with the fact that most of the African staple foods were unavailable here, and our cuisine was generally unhealthy. He felt the need to bring the food and culture of his people to ours, to share whatever he partook in for most of his life. Instead of rice, their starch of choice would be cassava, which fills you up much more, but is easily digested, and much more beneficial to your system. Today we have garri, which is cassava that is ground and fermented by Tee himself, then lightly fried. The consistency is like a sticky kakanin, even with a glutinous mochi texture, but with no flavor, making it the ideal component to round off a meal. There is also amala, another cassava dish that is whiter in color, and made with a different process, making it drier, and more similar to rice or dried coconut. This is the basis of our meal.

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Tee tells us that we will be eating kamayan-style today. “You eat with your hands because your hands can’t deceive you.” With this, he takes a formidable chunk of the garri, and rather than putting the sauces and food on it like we would, he dips it into the broth of the soup he made us. The stew which combines fish, pork trotters, chicken, beef skin, and tripe, is steeped with only tomatoes and chilies, with the natural oils of the meats providing the only source of fat. It is stewed in a large pot, with the purpose of providing for a large family, or community. It is a shared experience, a personal one, where you are closer to the food and to the earth because of the way you are eating.

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He gives us a bowl each of something that looks a little inconspicuous. Tee explains that almost every dish in African cuisine is spicy, or flavored with it, and this unassuming dish will be full of it. I love spice and put hot sauce on almost everything I eat, but Thomas and Kimi are a little wary. We have vegetables cooked with fresh siling labuyo, and a mix of betel leaf and sesame that is also chock full of heat. It is warming and welcoming, but can be intimidating to some. We are served a plate of sweet ground okra, and another of brewed saluyot, which we are meant to combine with the vegetables in order to cool the heat. Dipping our pieces of garri into the mix, we are surprised at how delicious this all tastes. You often think of vegetarian food as unexciting and bland, but this is the opposite of that. The varying levels of heat are incredibly new to the palate, with the flavors mixing in a way you have never thought was possible before. There is depth in the betel leaf, maybe a little herbal or medicinal, but the garlic with it is rich, and the sesame tones it down with its inherent nuttiness. The textures are complex too, the okra’s sliminess somehow perfect with the softness of the leaves, and the stickiness of the cassava.

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After our meal, Tee shows us the betel leaf plant he is growing on the property, a bright spot of green set across the ramshackle carwash. This is for the diabetes we are prone to have because of our sweet diet, but Tee has wiser words. “This, this will cure whatever ailment you have. It will know.” He takes a handful of leaves and juices them in the most primitive of ways, taking the bushel and rubbing their green fronds against each other until they are nothing but liquid. The juice is a bright, intense viridian, and he strains it, challenging us to drink. This will cleanse our bodies, he says, and we can use natural honey to sweeten it, but the purity will be lost. So we do, almost choking at how concentrated the grassy quality of it is. But it transforms, just like Tee told us it would, becoming sickeningly sweet at the back of our throats. It is an entirely new sensation for me.

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So what is African food? From our experience with Tee, it is simple but transformative, with the holistic being in mind with every dish prepared. Everything is made with spice, not just for flavor, but because it is good for the palate. Freshness is key, because this means the food is at the premium quality. Medicinal herbs and plants are used because they enhance both the experience and your body. Before we leave Tee tells us to knock back another sip of the betel leaf’s juice. “Call me tomorrow. Tell me if you have healed.”

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Have you ever had African food? What cuisine have you yet to try? Start the conversation below!


Iskayt African Restaurant

Address: Dreis Car Wash, Vatican City Drive, BF Resort, Paranaque
Number: 09178982234

Pamela Cortez Pamela Cortez

Pamela Cortez writes about food full-time, and has honed her craft while writing for publications such as Rogue, Town and Country, and The Philippine Star. She once rode on a mule for a mile just to eat mint tea and lamb in Morocco, and has eaten a block of Quickmelt in one sitting. Her attempt at food photography can be viewed online @meyarrr.

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27 comments in this post SHOW

27 responses to “If You’re Looking for African Food in Manila, Tee Adams Will Make it For You”

  1. Carl Tomacruz says:

    Forgive me for my long rant, but I feel the need to clear this off my chest.

    Why is it so easy for people to speak of Africa monolithically? Why do we lump the cultures and peoples of a continent THRICE the size of Europe into just one identity? Is Nigerian cuisine the definitive poster boy of all African cuisine? Does every country in Africa eat fufu and moinmoin? Can this Tee fellow cook Ethiopian kitfo or fit-fit? Can he bake Somali Canjeero bread? Can he make me a Boer Potjiekos stew?

    Don’t get me wrong; I genuinely want to try his cooking. But in my view, isn’t it a kind of misrepresentation that he knows the cuisine of each and every country in the whole African continent? Perhaps I should speak in a language that Pepper.ph people understand better: Imagine some dude opening an “Asian restaurant”, when all he serves is ramen and katsudon.

    And last I checked, Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco are also in Africa. They are as “African” as the Sub-Saharan folks are, and their cuisine SHOULD be treated as such. Couscous, Ful medames, Tagines, and Shakshuka are just a paltry handful of “Middle Eastern” food which actually belong to these countries.

    • Pamela Cortez says:

      Hi Carl thanks for your comments, but I think I wrote in the article that I’ve only tried Northern African food, and that Tee cooks Nigerian, and West and Central African dishes. You have to call him in advance, and whatever delicacy he feels like cooking for you that day, he will. He does other dishes as well, that we were not able to try when we met him, and has no set menu. The reason why Tee calls his cuisine African is because there is no other restaurant that does similar food for immigrants here, and it is to invite those who are far from their countries and culture to taste something that is at least a little close to home. Therefore we tackled this article in a way that was more approachable to our readers who might have no idea whatsoever of any cuisine in West or Central Africa. Tee is an awesome guy, and you must try his other food and recipes if you find the time 🙂

    • Paolo Loanzon says:

      Relax Carl. I fully agree that we shouldn’t generalize but the article doesn’t necessarily do that. If there was a blog post in Norway that read “If you’re looking for Asian Food, there’s a Filipino restaurant in Oslo” and the author generalized that Asian food has a palette of heat, sweet, sour, and salty and a very few ingredients, ingrained with a culture of sharing, they wouldn’t be wrong either.

  2. voracious eater says:

    Touché, Carl Tomacruz! Why not just name it Nigerian cuisine, if that’s where he’s from or if that’s his “expertise”. Unless he’s a culinary expert on ALL the various dishes of Africa, don’t result to hasty generalizations.

  3. voracious eater says:

    “resort” to, not “result” to…

  4. MarkZ says:

    Go easy on the criticism pips… Pepper may take this article down if it collects much heat, like what happened to previous articles that were heavily panned

    • Pamela Cortez says:

      Hi Mark, we always stand by the integrity of our writing and articles in Pepper, and have had many controversial ones. When we do slip and know that it is not up to our usual Pepper standards, then we retract it, but I assure you that has rarely happened 🙂 Probably once in the past year!

    • Helen says:

      Lol. Hindi na nga pwede mag comment sa mga crappy articles nung writer na yun.

    • Jeremy says:

      I see. I also noticed that they closed the comments section on the liquor review. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen. LOL!

  5. Bimbo says:

    I just have to take issue with the statement that our food is “generally unhealthy.” I know that came from the interviewee, but a few sentences down that unchallenged statement was reinforced with this sentence, “Tee struggled with the fact that most of the African staple foods were unavailable here, and our cuisine was generally unhealthy.” And also this, “Everything is meant to be good for the body and soul, counteracting our Filipino diet.” In short, Filipino food is unhealthy, and bad for body and soul. (Hmmm..)

    I think it’s quite hard to pigeonhole our entire cuisine (or any large country’s for that matter) as unhealthy / healthy or good / bad for the soul (though I’m not really sure what that means). I for one grew up in Metro Manila subsisting mainly for the better part of my youth on various fish and vegetables dishes, all thanks to my mother. One random trip to the wet market with its year-round bounty of fruits and vegetables will immediately belie his claim. Either he thinks sisig is our national dish, or he was led to believe Jollibee is the epitome of our cuisine. Either way, it’s a myopic view.

    It’s always interesting to learn about other country’s cuisine, but I just don’t agree that any cuisine is superior/inferior over another, a notion that is at best, unhealthy.

    • Victoria says:

      You’ve kind of said it yourself; foreigners don’t have the luxury of having a Filipino mom cook vegetables and fish for them, so all they know are the sisig, lechon, and crispy pata from restaurants. I work with European expats, and they largely think Filipino food is unhealthy too, so I’m used to getting into arguments with them over it. That’s simply their opinion, and it’s not entirely wrong. Is it myopic? Likely. But I’ll respect it even if I don’t agree with it, nor would I get all defensive over a different opinion.

      • Bimbo says:

        But the thing is, that statement/sentiment was not articulated merely by the interviewee himself, it’s something that was reinforced and perpetuated by the author herself, so, yes, I will tend to get defensive absent any contrarian view

    • Carl Tomacruz says:

      I agree. There was an air of arrogance or contempt from the interviewee. Or maybe he just doesn’t speak English that well.

    • PLEB says:

      >jollibee is the epitome of our cuisine
      >sisig national dish

      go to any old street carenderia and you’ll find food/ulam slick with oil, fats, and sugar. We put way too much of those three things. I could see why this guy would think that way and it is not totally unreasonable.

    • D says:

      Chaka talaga their editing

    • Jeremy says:

      I agree with his statement that Filipino dishes are generally unhealthy. That’s why most Filipinos suffer from obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and other sorts of complications. Adobo na nga lang tadtad ng toyo at suka. We’re also fond of eating, bituka, isaw, etc. You don’t have to be butt-hurt with his statement, learn to take it constructively.

  6. Maria Cristina Agoncillo Posad says:

    I just wanted to say that ive been here and tasted his dishes and yes ive been annoyed with the fact that he keeps saying that we use too much sugar in our cooking but thats not what he really means… its not just our cooking.. we consume so much sugar on a daily basis and in their culture its totally different. in their culture its only when they are younger do they enjoy eating sugary treats so for them we eat alot of sugar and thats what he means by generally unhealthy. they see us just mindlessly drinking softdrink and other sweet snacks and i can’t say that that is the healthiest thing. and when he says that “everything is meant to be good for the body and soul, counteracting our filipino diet” i dont believe that he said that verbatim. when he talks about the food that he prepares hes just very proud of their food and wants everybody to experience their different dishes he has to offer. also i would like to add for the author i know its very hard to understand his english but the name of the plant that he made you drink is not betel leaf its bitter leaf (hence the bitter taste) lucky for you it looks like he added some honey to that drink because the first time i had that i had it pure and it tasted like liquid ampalaya. i would like to encourage everyone to try their cuisine because its the closes thing to experiencing nigeria without leaving the country.

  7. Jenna says:

    Wow. More of articles like this. 🙂 And now I wanna go see and eat Tee Adams’ food. 🙂

  8. Logan says:

    May Magic Sarap rin pala sa Africa haha.

  9. Gyralyn says:

    Hello! The article of Tee Adams Nigerian food was written in 2014, is it still open today 2018?

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