Our time at Madiba, purportedly the first South African restaurant in the United States, began less than auspiciously. We walked into the tiny shop that fronts the popular Fort Greene spot and straight into some kind of party-cum-crafts fair. A few disorienting seconds later, we were escorted into the shebeen, or traditional informal dining hall, but advised not to sit at certain “rickety” and “uncomfortable” tables. We studied the folk art and Obama paraphernalia as we waited (and waited some more) to order. And then things started to pick way, way up.
Madiba --- Nelson Mandela’s nickname --- charges a premium for its large portions of (relative) exoticism. We started with Durban samoosas, bigger-than-bite-size tri-cornered pastries stuffed with vegetables and spiced with cinnamon.
The Indian inflections continued through our warming vegetable breyani, a huge helping of peppery rice with broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and tubers, topped with papadum, and Durban bunny chow, a hollowed-out mini-loaf of multigrain bread overstuffed with curried chicken. As it turns out (thank you, Wikipedia), Durban is home to many Indian immigrants, and “bunny chow” is slang for fast food, although there wasn't anything fast about the richness and depth of flavor. Each entrée also came with little sides, including banana-and-coconut milk, a salsa-like relish, chutney, and cucumbers and yogurt. It wasn’t clear how the condiments were meant to compliment the two dishes, but they were tasty all the same.
We wanted to stay, hanging out at the communal tables and perhaps enjoying another glass of the tart South African petit chenin, but, alas, we had another commitment that night. Next time we’ll order a little less food and relax a little bit more.