Baku’s African Restaurant
197 N Pleasant St
Amherst, MA 01002
During my years in college I spent time studying in London. While I was there I made friends with many African students at the University College London. Forming these relationships exposed me to a new world of culinary delights that I was unaware of growing up in the States. Many of my closest friends I met while studying abroad hailed from West Africa. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and even Togo became very familiar to me through the eyes of my good buddies. Feeling slightly home sick in a land far from their foundation, many of my Nigerian and Ghanaian female friends would often prepare their traditional dishes for me. I gained an appreciation for their savory hearty cooking style. Many of the dishes consisted of rich stews and aromatic sweet plantains served over a bed of traditional jolof rice. Although we may have come from different cultural backgrounds, their homey foods made me feel right at home and comforted, despite being so far away from the familiar.
Now years later, I’ve come across a restaurant that brings me back to the fond memories of my African friends’ cooking. Baku’s African Restaurant located in Amherst holds the reputation of being the only West African restaurant in Western Massachusetts. The restaurant owner, Pat Baku grew up on the sea coast of Nigeria and moved to Amherst to attend college. As a student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Baku told Dishin’ It that although the area was relatively open she noticed there wasn’t a strong African presence at the school or in the town. During a multi-cultural fair at U Mass, Baku decided to prepare some of her regional dishes for the student body and faculty. Baku said people loved the unique savory flavors of her food. She was encouraged by many of her peers to do some event catering around the school. Her success in catering is what sparked her interest in cooking professionally. But, when she decided to open her own restaurant in Amherst she was met with rejection and intolerance from some landlords who didn’t want her type of cuisine in their buildings. Fortunately, she stayed determined and in 2005 she eventually found a cozy nook on Pleasant Street in Amherst, where she could live out her dream of having her own restaurant.
The menu at Baku’s features authentic Nigerian cuisine from her sea coast region. Many of the dishes are both gluten and lactose free–which means vegans this a great spot for you. One of the staple dishes at Baku’s is Foo Foo or pounded yam, considered the ultimate comfort food in Nigeria. Another traditional dish is Akara, black-eyed pea fritters with a taste similar to potato latkes and a consistency that is vaguely reminiscent of hush puppies. The stewed black-eyed peas also come in an entrée dish featuring collard greens and jolof rice smothered with a rich tomato sauce. The tomato sauce, with hints of onion, garlic, and ginger, was so delicious my friends and I couldn’t stop dipping, slurping, and lapping it up on top of every item we tasted. Her rich stewed sauce has become so popular that Baku is working on selling and distributing containers of her homemade sauce in Whole Foods Grocery store.
Baku’s African restaurant also offers some yummy meat dishes. Since organic chicken tends to be expensive in Nigeria, many of the traditional meals use goat meat and seafood. Both fresh grilled salmon and shrimp can be found on the menu as well as curry chicken. Baku says she uses her own special curry powder on the chicken to give it an authentic flare. You can specify how spicy you want your entrée to be; ranging from mild to medium to super spicy. If you’re kind of daring and want a bit of heat, I’d say pick regular spicy, cause it will give you a nice kick in the mouth without having to urgently reach for that glass of water. When looking for a beverage to pair with your delightful Nigerian meal, Baku encourages her customers to try her signature mango juice. A favorite among Baku’s children, the mango juice goes down ridiculously smooth and silky, leaving a buttery sweet after taste in your mouth. It’s almost like a desert in itself.
The food and ambiance at Baku’s African restaurant makes you feel like your being transported to the warm sea coast of Nigeria. Baku had a mural painted on the wall of her establishment depicting the scenery from where she grew up. You can also groove to the tunes of some modern African music while enjoying your meal. Baku helps support African artists by playing their CDs in her restaurant. A warm and endearing spirit, Pat Baku brings life and inspiration to the Amherst community through her respected restaurant. I definitely think you should take the time to check out this lovely African treat.
Written by Alexis Miller