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Taste Nigeria in east Charlotte

Tom Hanchett

Esther Ikuru with art behind her depicting women around a Nigerian cooking pot
Esther Ikuru with art behind her depicting women around a Nigerian cooking pot

The Cooking Pot African Kitchen opened in November amid the construction of Independence Boulevard. Owner Esther Ikuru, usually behind the counter, arrived in Charlotte from Nigeria 20 years ago. Sculptural cut-outs recalling African women around a huge kettle highlight the bold, colorful, modernistic interior.

Rice is a main attraction. Nigeria forms part of Africa’s historic rice coast; people from that region brought knowledge of rice growing to America. Ikuru always offers at least two preparations of rice.

There’s Jollof Rice, likely originated by the Jolof people who ruled a vast ancient empire that included parts of Nigeria. It’s cooked with tomatoes, onions and red bell pepper to give a distinctive orange color, and it’s slightly spicy with a whisper of habanero pepper.

There’s also Coconut Rice, slightly sweet rather than spicy, which is cooked in coconut milk. “I remember coconut trees at my grandmother’s house,” says Ikuru, recalling her childhood in Nigeria’s Benin City.

Ikuru tops the rice with a dollop of rich tomato sauce, so thick that Nigerians call it a stew, plus the meat of your choice. She is especially proud to offer grass-fed beef.

“It’s all cooked fresh daily, healthy stuff,” Ikuru says. Vegetarian items include yams, fufu (casava), bean dishes, and also Moi-Moi, a savory pudding made with black-eyed peas, onions and a hint of scotch-bonnet pepper. “My mother and grandmother taught me to cook. You can’t snap your fingers and be done with it. There are lots of steps.”

The Cooking Pot African Kitchen

Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday noon – 7 p.m.

Independence Shopping Center
5622 East Independence Blvd., suite 129
Charlotte NC 28212
(704) 909 – 4000

Jollof Rice with fried plantains, chicken and “stew.”
Jollof Rice with fried plantains, chicken and “stew.”

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