Wasota African Cuisine
My only experience with African food before Tuesday afternoon was with Aster’s Ethiopian (which is a great spot at I-35 and Dean Keeton with an awesome buffet,) but generally my culinary knowledge of the many varied foods from that continent is sadly lacking. Fortunately, Wasota African Cuisine has popped up on South First Street, and if you haven’t been and expanded your culinary horizons yet, (or gotten a refresher in delicious Nigerian/West African food) you should make an effort to change that.
For those familiar with the old World Beat Café near the UT campus (I wasn’t), Wasota is the new food stop from World Beat's former owner, Lawrence Osas Eguakun. Eguakun is a very nice man and great for recommendations and conversation, but watch out, because if you don’t clean your plate, he will ask you why.
For me, the reason I couldn’t finish everything on my plate was that I over ordered (a common occurrence for me.) I didn’t have a dining partner this week for the first time in a while, and I thought the combination of an order of meat pies and a veggie plate would combine to make a good sized and varied meal. However, the meat pies are more like the large, hearty “pies” you would find in England and the veggie plates are clearly meant to be a meal and not a side dish.
The menu at Wasota has two sides: one devoted to Vegan-friendly veggie fare – and it’s not small, so bring your vegan friends here – and one that includes traditional carnivore-friendly dishes like stewed goat with Egusi soup and mashed African yams. However, since I wanted to try one of the veggie plates and get some meat, I skipped the temptations of a hearty stew in favor of two dishes.
And while it was an overwhelming amount of food, man I’m glad I did. Wasota is going to be a regular stop for me, especially with adventurous out-of-town friends. Compared to Ethiopian food, the eats I got at Wasota were less smoky than I was expecting and more spicy and stewy. (Yes, I just used the word stewy. Sorry, but it's the best general description I could think up.)
The meat pies were large and fluffy, with a crust that was moist and only slightly flaky. The filling was good and, though the order of two pies was smothered in a heavy sauce, the chef doesn’t use it as an excuse to let the filling be dry. The filling was mostly ground meat with a few stray potatoes and carrots thrown in, and the light heat and spice inside was combined with the strong spice of the tomato-based red Benin sauce on top. I had never encountered Benin sauce before Tuesday, but now I want to learn how to make it because it was the kind of spicy that fills your mouth with full heat instead of a concentrated attack of spicy.
The vegetable plate that I ordered came with sautéed spinach, black-eyed peas and fried plantains. The great thing about the dish was it was not like many veggie plates where everything blends together into a vegetable mush in your memory – every single item on the plate had its own personality and tasted like it was its own dish, even though everything was covered with a healthy scoop of the Benin sauce again.
In the past I haven’t been a big fan of dishes like collard greens or stewed spinach, but I may have to change my approach after eating at Wasota because the spinach was my absolute favorite thing. It was overflowing with flavor, savory and quite spicy. The black-eyed peas had less flavor, but were perfect because of that as they made a nice foil and palate cleanser after all the spice of the other foods and sauce. The fried plantains ended up tasting like baked sweet potatoes crossed with plantains, which was another nice sweeter flavor to throw into the mix and balance the plate.
Overall, everything I had at Wasota was delicious, so I'll be giving the trailer five adventurous eater stars out of five. Try it out the next time you need something hearty and comforting that may take you outside your comfort zone.