In London, Nigerian born entrepreneur Tomi Makanjuola has been leading the vegan rise in popularity among Africans living in the city, offering healthier and meatless dishes, packed with flavours.
LONDON, UK (REUTERS) – At a pop-up restaurant in London, Nigerian-born British chef, Tomi Makanjuola is busy making meals for about 30 guests.
Tomi specializes in traditional Nigerian food presented with a twist — as vegan dishes.
The vegan movement has gained popularity in recent years. Its followers do not eat meat, fish or poultry and do not consume other animal products like eggs or dairy.
Nigerian cuisine is known for its rich and spicy flavours and usually consists of rice, fish, meat and vegetable dishes, often cooked in palm oil.
Tomi’s interest in vegan cuisine peaked after seeing a gap in African restaurants – few offer vegan options on their menus. She says she wants to to cater to people looking for tasty, healthy vegan meals.
“I feel people are curious about vegan food because of the attention its getting in the media these days, and when you combine that with the fact that it is vegan Nigerian food fascinated and want to try something different. I feel that there are so many restaurants out there nowadays but African food for the most part is under represented and so wherever people can find, I guess, difference – they are going to go there,” Tomi said.
Tomi says vegan cuisine has a reputation for being bland, but that it doesn’t have to be.
She infuses her dishes with different flavours using staple ingredients that are found in many traditional non-vegan, Nigerian dishes such as tomatoes, ginger, coconut, pepper, onions and so on.
Tonight’s menu consists of couscous, salads, lentils, rice, and various other vegetable dishes. Although most of the guests here say they are meat eaters, they said they were impressed by tonight’s menu.
“When I found out I was coming to a vegan restaurant, I was quite intrigued what the food was going to be like. I’ve never had Nigerian vegan food before. It was really tasty. I really liked the lentils, the lentils were really well done. The couscous was really tasty with the peppers and really well presented. It was really good. I really enjoyed it,” said one guest, Natalie Walker.
“I think people are becoming more educated about what actually goes on with the production of meat – and how animals are treated, so I think people are just naturally just moving away from it because the way animals are reared in this country and how meat is actually produced is not great anyway so. I actually think people are identifying with it because of that,” said another guest Margaret Hoyte-Collimore.
“It was amazing! I particularly liked the dish with the plantain – I think it was the salad. It had plantain and the onion kind of like breadcrumbs in it. That was really nice. But Tomi’s food is really good anyway. This is the second supper club I’ve been to. I love her food,” added another guest, Dawn Wilson.
Tomi attributes her success to the flavours she adds to some dishes, mimicking the texture of meat with specific vegetables and spices.
“For die-hard meat-eaters, I focus on flavour because I do feel that is where the crux of it is. Texture is another one as well. So if you can find ways of using vegetables that have a meaty consistency and you use that in normal foods that would contain a lot of meat, then they don’t feel as if they are missing out too much because they do have that texture of meaty food without the animal products included in it,” she said.
Tomi says she plans to expand her menu and explore other vegan dishes from various African countries.
She is also the founder of the website “The vegan Nigerian”, where she shares recipes inspired by Nigerian cuisine.