If you have made it this far in my blog and are still reading, then you know by now I love good food. But what you don’t know about me yet is I don’t love spicy food. I am working on raising my level of tolerance but it is a slow going process and to be honest, I don’t think it will ever reach Titanic proportions. To give you an idea of my spice level tolerance, I am finally able to each Popeye’s Spicy chicken without breathing fire. Fun story that wasn’t so fun at the time: years ago, I was driving back to CT from NY and was eating some Brown Stew Chicken from a local Jamaican restaurant. I managed to get through about half my meal when all of a sudden, after a particular bite, the left side of my tongue became numb. Totally numb! Shortly thereafter the numbing feeling spread to the left side of my lips and eventually the entire left side of my face. My left eye started watering uncontrollably and my nose started profusely running. I thought my hair was going to catch fire. The pain was so intense! It felt like my face was sliding off. I had to pull over to the side of the road because my vision was blurry through the stream of tears running down my face. All I had to drink was Ting. For those of you not familiar with this delicacy, it is a grapefruit flavored soda. Not helpful in this situation…. at all! I had some coco bread, thankfully, and was chewing it slowly, trying to allow the bread morsels to soak up the fire that was currently engulfing my mouth. A scotch bonnet pepper must have found its way into my food, and I found the tiny sliver and bit into it during that delectable bite. The fire raged for what felt like hours. I had devoured the bread and the fire raged on! I suffered for an indeterminate amount of time before I was finally able to pull back on the road and limp the rest of the way home. To this day, I do NOT understand how anyone can ever get used to spicy food! EVER! Yet, people do. I can assure you, this Lady will not never….
Why do I mention this story? Well I have been able to avoid super spicy food for decades. I got blindsided again a couple of years ago at a Thai restaurant in San Antonio. The menu had a cute little rating of peppers 1-5 on their scale. I asked the waiter how spicy it really was and he said it was very mild. To be on the safe side, I ordered my Chicken Tikka Masala as a 1 on the hotness scale. Took it home and started eating. WHAT THE HECK! The 1 was barely tolerably for me. I never would have survived a 2, much less a 3. And a 5?!?!?! At that level, can you even TASTE THE FOOD? What kind of crazy do you have to be?
But I digress, back to the story….
There is a wonderful African Restaurant in NOLA called Bennachin. I stumbled across it one day while wandering around the city. Didn’t even realize it was a restaurant because of its unassuming exterior, until I spotted a couple looking in the window. I was curious so I googled the name on the sign above the door and discovered this little hidden gem. I was hungry so I decided to walk in and the smells set my stomach to rumbling. The décor is simple. A very low key place to eat. My favorite item on the menu is their Black Eyed Pea fritter called Akara. The staff swears it is made with black eyed peas but the inside is white as clean snow and I do not taste a single black eye pea in the mix. That being said, it is, however simply delicious! Tender and soft and not hard or crunchy like something that has been over fried. It is the size of a hush puppy but quintessentially better! I thought perhaps it was a fluke… like maybe I arrived on a good day and the stars aligned up just right so I went back a second time with friends and it was JUST as good as the first time. I ordered their Sisay Singho which is baked chicken leg and thigh, sautéed spinach, sweet plantains, and coconut rice. The portions were so large I had enough left over for dinner the next day. Fast forward a few weeks later, while at work, I was discussing restaurants with some co-workers. A fellow nurse mentioned she likes this African restaurant and I asked “is it Bennachin?” to which she gasped YES! We couldn’t stop raving about it for a good 15 minutes so another nurse googled the menu and we made plans to get together the following week for a girls night out. We got together and it was still amazing! We ordered Akara again and Doh Doh, which is fried ripe plantains as appetizers. Ndole, which is beef, spinach, ground fresh peanuts in ginger and garlic sauce served with fried ripe plantains and coconut rice, and Cope ni Cone, which is boneless chicken, broccoli, ginger, and garlic sauce served over rice and the Sisay Singho again. Everyone was delighted with their order and what can I say, we were not disappointed. I thought I took pictures but think I deleted them off my phone. Sorry… next time!
Now, not everything is perfect! I went back alone a third time and ordered their Sorso Nessing, which is lentil soup and Sorso Wolengho Ni Mano, which is red beans and beef sausage slices served with rice. The first three bites of the lentil soup was so delicious, I shed a tear of happiness. THEN, the spicy hit me head on! At first I just started having violent hiccups associated with the hotness. So silly me thought I should just drain out the liquid and eat the lentils… because of course only the liquid part of the soup is hot, right? Made sense at the time. I attempted to eat two more bites of just the lentils and the hiccups became so intense, it felt like my diaphragm was trying to launch my stomach out of my body. I could not take another bite if I wanted to keep my dignity intact for fear of hurling. How can something taste so heavenly and so spicy at the same time? I ask again, how can anyone survive spicy food? As far as the red beans and beef sausage, I was disappointed. The red beans and rice were tasty, but not memorable. And the sliced beef sausage tasted like a plain hot dog. Nothing to write home about.
Still, there are many other menu options so don’t let this one disappointing dish sway you. Please go and dine and Bennachin’s. You will not be disappointed.