new Things I Ate in Cambodia: Bennachin, Shipa-Shipa, and that Accursed Rain

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bennachin, Shipa-Shipa, and that Accursed Rain

(504) 522-1230
1212 Royal St
New Orleans, LA 70116

Saturday was a rainy day in New Orleans.

Rain here is humid, it is sticky, it gets into your clothes and turns them sweaty and gross. Rain in the summer months here could never be called refreshing. After the rain slackens off, the earth becomes humid and impossibly hot. You find yourself wishing you could be instantly transported to Antarctica. Wish you could stick your head in a sno-ball machine.

It was sunny and hot, that post-rain hot, when I finished my shift at the Farmer's Market and headed to the Quarter. The rain, just as I had anticipated, began again by the time I hit Bourbon (after freshening up at the Sheraton, which never seems to get bent out of shape when I use their bathrooms).

I decided I would go to Bennachin, the Quarter's first and insofar as I am aware only African restaurant. Most American African restaurants are Ethiopian if they are anything, but this one is not: the food is influenced by Gambia and the Cameroon (among other African locales), and the menu is unlike anything I've seen before. Thick okra stews, roasted spicy chicken, peanut and beef curries, fried plantains, yucca, and other African treats are on the menu here. Chow down a little here and it won't be difficult to see how African cuisine so influenced that of New Orleans. Super hot pepper sauce is offered in a tremendous plastic bottle with pretty much everything.

Prices are cheap: I went for the $7.95 lunch special of shipa-shipa, sauteed shrimp with a spicy tomato-ginger-pepper sauce. For a side dish, I chose the jama-jama, traditional sauteed spinach. It's also a dish that puts in an appearance at Jazzfest.

It's a family place. The food took a while to show up. The two waiters stared at BET soap operas, and I tried to read the Gambit. I eventually dozed off at my table -long night before, and the rain come down, harder and harder. Everyone had rainbow umbrellas. Decadence wasn't quite over yet.

The shipa-shipa was delicious, a rougher, spicier take on New Orleans venerated shrimp-creole. The spicy hot elixir was the perfect thing on a rainy, lousy looking day, somewhat-small gumbo shrimp be damned. I doused it with pepper sauce and chowed down. The jama jama was also quite tasty, with a subtly spicy flavor. This too was given the pepper sauce treatment. Namibian style soul food.

Passed on dessert and headed out the door. My umbrella was on the brink of death but it mostly worked, and anyhow I had a raincoat. I'll be back to Bennachin, especially when it rains, or when it's cold, and I need something entirely and completely hot.

Bennachin is cash-only, which it would do well to remember. There is an ATM across the street. Take-out is provided all the time, if you find yourself needing spicy African food in the middle of a bender, and sometimes you just do.

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