amawele's south african kitchen....expanding my horizons
Well, I'm back, of sorts and with September comes the first hints of fall in SF--which means it is hot, so welcome to this towns version of summer! Everything's in full swing (except me working) and here I go diving back into food to keep me focused and my mind active. What better way to kick things off than going totally outside the box with Amawele's South African Kitchen, pretty much the only South African spot you are gonna find in this town.
The place has kind of been on my peripheral radar for since it opened, but it is located in Rincon Center and only open M-F 11am-2:30pm, making it a challenge to get to normally. But with recent events, I've managed to tuck in there with the rest of that part of towns work a day crowd and grab a quick lunch or two there.
I first got an intro to South African cuisine on an actual trip there a few years ago. And while they aren't exactly serving up kudu, they do have some native dishes on order they've given a sort of California flare to. One example in particular I tried in SA that they offer here was bobotie. It's kind of like a shepherd's pie meets moussaka with lots of meat, potatoes and veggies.
Ground beef prepared with fruits (mostly raisin) and their own special spice blend on a bed of steamed veggies with truffle sweet potato mash. Their California kick is to make it paleo and do away with the baked egg custard like topping and make it simplified meat, potato and veggie. At first I was a little dubious especially since it is priced at $10, but when I got it, the container looks small but it was packed, heavy and full of veggies underneath the above.
Quite large pieces of nicely steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and yellow squash. The meat has a very distinct spice blend flavor to it. And while they wouldn't disclose exactly what was in it, it tasted like some combination of ginger, marjoram, curry powder, cinnamon, cardamon, cumin, lemon or a variation of Middle Eastern like spices. While the raisins are not overly prevalent, they do add a pleasant sweetness to offset the strong spices. I personally might have liked a few more throughout the meat. Still, though not super traditional, as is, I did like it. Plus, there was more than enough to get two meals out of it that easily filled me up and made me feel good I ate something healthy!
But like any intrepid food eater, I wanted to make sure I tried all their specialties and made a point to have a return visit for a dish that many folks seem to rave about--the bunny chow.
It is a quarter loaf of bread hollowed out then filled with Amawele's special curry chicken (also available in veggie and beef) and potatoes served with a side of pickled carrots and all that bread they hollowed out for $9. Where as the bobotie was all healthy and paleo, this one was surely a carbo load with the potatoes and ALL THAT BREAD! Again, it was a lot of food to boot. Had I eaten all of this in one sitting, I would have had to take a nap after lunch. So unless you are big on sleeping under your desk, you may want to keep that in mind.
The meat was tender and plentiful and the curry was of the red variety (obviously) with just a mild spice to it. I could have stood a stronger kick, but that isn't necessarily the South African way. What you get though is more than flavorful with those large chunks of chicken and potatoes and the curry sauce dripping effortlessly over it all. The bread reall helps to suck it all up like gravy so you don't miss anything. The pickled carrots give a little tang to lighten the richness of the sauce too. Here, as above, this was enough food to easily turn into double lunches or dinners. I can see why the bunny chow has such fans.
When you add up the flavor component with value component, Amawele's is a lunch time winner to me. Large portions of local fresh ingredients with great flavors and reasonable prices is sort of what my normal food search is all about in San Francisco. Sure, I can kick it up a notch every now and then, but when I find a place like this with tasty affordable options, I like to tell as many people as I can. And even though they have limited hours, some of their popular dishes do have a tendency to sell out. If you work in the area or have a rare weekday off, you should try to get by. While it won't be exactly like dining in South Africa, it can be a delicious alternative to your usual lunch from that same old sandwich or Mexican spot. And unless you are a mega big eater, at least here you will have enough for lunch the next day and not have to venture out in the heat of September in the middle of the hottest part of the day. Win, win!