Hankering for Some Quality South African Food? Head to Madiba (Brooklyn)
There’s BBQ and then there’s South African BBQ, which – if you’ve experienced the latter – are two wildly different things. I’m not quite sure if it’s the way the meat has been cut, marinated, grilled or presented, but each time I’ve had a flank of South African beef or perfectly seared shrimps I’ve found it’s tasted miles different than the North American barbecue I’m used to.
It’s so damn delicious you have to work hard to avoid stuffing yourself silly.
Located on DeKalb Avenue, in the heart of Fort Greene (Brooklyn), is the kind of restaurant that serves up such savoury, grilled goodness. Established in 1999, Madiba pays homage to the spirit of the formidable Nelson Mandela and, as outlined on their website, is dedicated “to the future of South Africa, a future that promises greater cultural harmony, economic development, and collective enjoyment of ‘a World in One Country.’”
Food with a conscience? Sounds like my kind of place.
Inspired by the local tradition of informal dining halls in the townships of South Africa, the environment is a mix of laid back kitsch-cool that succeeds at channeling a Sub-Saharan African vibe: corrugated steel moonlights as wallpaper, ceremonial masks hang on the walls and empty Coke bottles are used for all manner of decor (e.g. check out the chandelier in the photo below). if I didn’t know any better I could have sworn I’d walked off the streets of Brooklyn and right into one of the many African shebeens I’ve had the fortune of frequenting. The only thing missing are the scatterings of red earth on the restaurant floor and the bleating of goats tied up somewhere out the back.
The interior aside, the food at Madiba is rather fantastic, especially when taking into consideration price/quality. The menu consists of locally sourced ingredients and the items are exotic without being pretentious, and they’re wholly accessible even if it’s your first time having “African food.” Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, there’s ample choice for any type of “vore;” plenty of meat for the carnivores, salads/veggies/curries for the herbivores, and the omnivores are the lucky ones who get the pick of the litter. If you struggle with an allergy or dietary restriction, the staff are quick to help out by either consulting the kitchen to double check for suspect ingredients or by providing recommendations you’ll be hard pressed to not enjoy.
Our table had a little bit of everything with some lobster tail here and grilled squid there. We dug into the Bobotie (baked curried ground beef with an egg custard topping) and char grilled steak with giddy abandon. We couldn’t get enough of the vinegar soaked fries and delighted over the peri-peri prawns and Mom’s Wild Salmon Cake. Each dish was nicely presented and the mains came with a sturdy helping of salad and yellow rice with raisins. In fact, had we known how much food actually came on the plates, we would have skipped the appetizers all together and settled for a main.
The only drawback was the service, which was a bit slow at times, though given that it was a Saturday evening it was good luck that we had gotten a table at all. The food was complimented by an electrifying atmosphere and a highly enjoyable bottle of South African white, all of which turned our off-the-cuff dinner into an evening that stretched into the early hours of the morning.
For a semblance of Brooklyn community there’s no other restaurant quite like it, and when you add mouthwatering South African fare to the mix, I can only bang on about Madiba’s fabulousness. Because it’s a place where you can kick up your feet and feel right at home.
Where you’ll feel your heart throbbing in time to the beat of South Africa’s own.
195 DeKalb Avenue
Brooklyn, New York
Tel: +1 (718) 855-9190