At Expo 2020 Dubai, countries from around the world will showcase their national dishes, giving visitors the opportunity to taste traditional and specialised cuisines from more than 200 different outlets. Perhaps the most underrated cuisine currently making an impact is from Africa.
The continent comprises of 54 countries and yet little is known beyond its borders about delicious indigenous dishes such as the Ugandan-style chapatti filled with vegetable curry; triple-fried Tunisian baharat chicken; light and fluffy Ethiopian injera flatbread, or spicy Cameroonian pepper fish. Award-winning chef Alexander Smalls wants to change that.
Over the past three decades, the opera singer-turned-restaurateur has been on a journey, studying the cooking techniques and dishes of the African diaspora around the world. His learnings, along with recipes from his childhood, can be found in his three cookbooks Grace the Table; Between Harlem and Heaven, and Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes from My African American Kitchen – and now his discoveries can also be tasted in Dubai at Alkebulan.
“African food is as diverse as the continent’s countries and communities, yet it is still under-represented in the world,” says Smalls. “Bringing a piece of Africa to Expo 2020 is an opportunity to showcase the rich diversity that makes African cuisine unique from region to region. Food and music are both instrumental to our culture, and Alkebulan is a place that marries the two, welcoming visitors from around the world to be immersed in our flavours and traditions.”
One of Smalls’ favourite dishes – oxtail fried rice – typifies the history and diversity found in African dishes. Green Kenyan beans and collard greens are mixed with bean sprouts and seasoned with garlic, white soy sauce, sesame oil, curry spice and red bird’s eye chilli in this black rice and braised oxtail ensemble.
“This, for me, is the Afro-Asian influence, which comes from the enslaved that were in China back in the 1500s,” says Smalls.
“I'm always excited to make the oxtail fried rice,” he adds. “I mean, I love fried rice, and fried rice is one of those ‘feel-good’ kind of dishes. You just clean out the refrigerator and you make something wonderful.”
Alkebulan – the oldest known name for Africa, meaning ‘Mother of Mankind’ or ‘Garden of Eden’ – contains 11 counters and concepts in total, from Afro Street Eatery to The Tasty Goat, showcasing some of the tastiest African food and cocktails.
Open from 10am to midnight Saturday to Wednesday, and from 10am to 1am Thursday and Friday, the food hall will promote its message of positive cultural exchange through cuisine throughout Expo 2020 Dubai. With the storied dishes of Alkebulan, it offers a taste of history too.
For more information, visit www.expo2020dubai.com.