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Chitoes African Deli and Catering

Posted by YAR 13 Apr 2010 No Comments

As much as I love the comfort and taste of southern food, I get very excited about other types of cuisine coming to Jackson.  It makes me feel so cosmopolitan!  So I was really excited to try Chitoes African Deli and Catering (1700 Terry Rd, Jackson).

Despite being in one of those strip-malls-that-time-forgot on Hwy 80, the inside of Chitoes is pleasant and bright (though not exactly modern).  There are four booths, lots of windows, and upbeat African music on the stereo.

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On my first visit, I got plantains and jelof rice and fish.  My favorite part of the meal was the plantains, which were the right ripeness and cooked to a pretty perfect level of softness (but not mushiness) with that heavenly caramelization on the edges.  A good plantain is not that easy to find around here, so I was very happy to have found one.  The jelof rice had a pleasant light red sauce on it, with spices that I could not identify but which were fairly mild.  The fish turned out to be fried catfisth–it was quite good, with flaky tender meat that was not at all fishy.  The breading was light, which I appreciated, and well seasoned, with only a very subtle difference in spices from a lot of the local fried fish.

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When I went back a second time (the next day), I was more adventurous, and I had a friend to help me sample as much as possible.  I started with a Vitamalt, which did not sound appealing from either the name or the description (like sweet unfermented beer) but turned out to be delicious.  It was very sweet but in a kind of complex way, and I have been craving another one ever since.

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For my lunch I ordered the moi moi and some goat.

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According to the internet and the cook at Chitoes, moi moi is made of black-eyed peas.  It tasted like no black-eyed peas I have ever had, but I liked it a lot.  The orange mound seemed texturally like a combination of beans and some kind of starch, and surprised me (pleasantly) by having a hard boiled egg inside. I liked the spiciness, which was there but not overpowering.

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As many times as I have tried it, I’ve never had goat that I really liked.  This goat was no different, but I chalk that up to my preferences and not to the preparation.  As much as I could separate the flavor of the surrounding sauce from the goat itself, I think I liked it and look forward to trying the other meats they offer (beef and chicken).

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My friend got the egusi soup, which we were told is also called melon soup; the internet says it is made with the crushed seeds of an African melon.  The flavor was completely unfamiliar to me and a little strange, and there were some odd pieces that we decided were probably fish, but we both appreciated the building spiciness in the background.  I’m not sure I can wholeheartedly recommend egusi soup to someone who is not extremely adventurous or hasn’t already acquired what seems to be the very acquired taste for melon soup.  I was reminded of the only other time I have been to a West African restaurant, in North Carolina.  The menu was split into two parts: foods Americans will like, and foods they probably will not (though they were labeled more subtly than that).  I imagine egusi soup would have gone on the latter half of the menu.

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The soup was served with fufu, a soft starchy ball that required some instructions to eat—we were given a bowl of water to rinse our hands and told to tear off pieces of fufu and dip them into the egusi.  The taste was mild, and it seemed to be more of a soup delivery vehicle than a stand-alone side, but I enjoyed it.

I’d never had 95% of the things on the menu (having been to only a couple of African restaurants that weren’t Ethiopian)–from a quick google search it seems that a lot of the items originate from Western Africa or Nigeria.  In addition to what we ate, there were several other types of soups, some curries, and some more familiar things like wings and chicken tenders—the exact menu changes daily.  Although my palate might not be ready for some of the traditional African dishes served at Chitoes, most of the things I ate were, I thought, pretty universally tasty. The cashier and cook, who I assume were also the owners, were very friendly and clearly excited about their food. They have only been open about a week and they seemed to be anxious for more customers (their location and the fact that their sign still says “coming soon” can’t help) so I hope they do well.

Chitoes is open Monday through Saturday, 11am-10pm; their number is 601-842-1301.

Update: See also Grits & Soul’s take!

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