I have always been into food and restaurants. I blame my parents. My mother is an excellent cook – my uncles swear that her home cooking is “better than restaurant food” – and it was not uncommon to have my aunts and uncles drop by our Luanda house during the two hour lunch-break we inherited from our Iberian colonizers. My father started taking me to restaurants at a young age; one of my earliest memories was going with him to the now extinct Barracuda restaurant on the end of the Ilha, a peninsula that juts out of Luanda bay into the Atlantic Ocean and is today the playground of Luanda’s elites. In its hey days, Barracuda was one of the only decent restaurants in town.
Luanda’s restaurant scene suffered greatly during the country’s Marxist and civil war years. However, since peace was achieved in 2002, the city’s gastronomical offerings have exponentially increased. Luanda, known as the most expensive city in the world for the thousands of expats that now live there, now boasts restaurants for many tastes: Scandinavian cuisine at Kafe Stockholm, Mexican fare at Sabor do Texas, sushi at Asia Lounge or Shogun and Italian style thin crust pizza at Capricciosa, just to name some.
In 2009, realizing that there was no English-language guide or reviews for the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene, a group of French expats started a blog called Luanda Nightlife. It explored the city’s restaurants, clubs, lounges, and bars. They visited the various establishments and reviewed each place on the blog. It was of course an amusing read. As several have been there will attest, many Luanda restaurants have notoriously inadequate service, most are unjustifiably overpriced, and the vibrant nightlife scene in of itself is something else to behold. These Luanda Nightlife blokes left no stone unturned on their blog; reviewing everything from the posh restaurants to the street food at the end of the Ilha. It just so happened that the English language version of the blog was so good that many Angolans started following it. For a lot of us abroad, it was a great way to keep an eye on new restaurants and bars and know where to go to when we visiting home.
Eventually, the expats had to return home. I had become acquainted and friendly with them by then. So I was not displeased when they asked me if I wanted to take over the blog. Since then, some friends and I have made the blog more Angolan-friendly: all our new posts are bilingual (English and Portuguese) and we started to translate the very detailed and expansive catalogue that our friends had left behind.
Today the majority of the sites visitors are Angolan; and even restaurants and bars have begun to take notice of the blog site. We hope that it becomes the main hospitality resource for Luandans and visitors alike who want to go out but are unsure of how to go about it. In a rapidly changing city like Luanda, it is important to be able to catalogue all of its eating establishment, or at least those that our wallets and stomachs allow. I believe that restaurants contribute to the identity of a city, so this has been an immensely fulfilling journey.
Just three weeks ago, we interviewed Jorge Alves, the Portuguese chef at Chill Out, which is amongst the most popular and iconic restaurants in Luanda. Catering to moneyed residents, the restaurant is known for its eclectic décor, beachside location, party scene, and increasingly, its food. As in various high-end restaurants in Luanda, the chef is Portuguese, perhaps highlighting the trend of Portuguese professionals increasingly coming to Angola for work. During the interview, Chef Jorge spoke frankly about the reality of being a chef in Luanda. Below is an excerpt of the interview in English.
Luanda Nightlife: When did you get the opportunity to work in Angola?
Jorge Alves: About two years ago I was contacted by some friends who told me about the opportunity to work at Chill Out and I could not resist this different type of challenge and the experience of working in Africa, a continent I had never been to before.
What difficulties did you find in Luanda? Were you expecting them or was adaptation difficult?
The difficulties I have encountered are the all too common lack of electricity and water, the occasional shortage of certain products in the supply market, and the inflated cost of supply here have been the biggest challenges. There is also a lack of a qualified, skilled workforce with proper training in hospitality. These were problems that I was specifically warned about and I am lucky to be able to work in a very well structured establishment put in place. This allowed me to adapt quickly.
What steps do you take to mitigate these difficulties?
With regards to the electricity and water supply, there really is not much to do. But with the suppliers we have been trying to create a close relationship based on trust. With regards to a qualified work force, if there is no supply of skilled labor in the job market, we will have to train our employees ourselves, in the restaurant. I have to say that I am very proud of the quality of my kitchen team.
How would you define Chill Out’s cuisine? What is its target market?
At Chill Out we serve fusion cuisine that is based on Portuguese/Mediterranean gastronomy with a strong Asian influence and increasingly Angolan overtones. We primarily cater to an upper-middle class clientele.
What are the biggest advantages of working in a restaurant in Luanda?
It is in the midst of a society that is experiencing considerable economic growth. More people have the spending power necessary to eat out. Another advantage is that the restaurant industry here is rather young and there is still a lot to do and many opportunities to explore.
How familiar are you with Angola’s culinary tradition? Do you feel that it is represented in Chill Out’s menu?
I am starting to get more and more familiar with Angolan gastronomy, and I have my workers to thank for that. Several times now we have served dishes with an Angolan identity, such as the calulu de gambas (a traditional Angolan shrimp stew) with funge (fufu) served in skewers, or even desserts that incorporate Angolan flavors such as the combination of funge and peanuts.
Recipe: Moamba de Galinha with Funge (fufu) (Claudio via Verena Gois)
Cooking time – 1 Hour
Serves 4-6 people
Ingredients for Moamba
900 gr moamba
1 chicken, cut into small pieces
200 grams of eggplant
200 grams of okra
Chop the onion and tomatoes and cook in a pan with a bit of palm oil, to sauté for a few minutes. Chop the eggplant and add to the moamba sauté along with the chicken cut into small pieces. Add salt to taste. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or so, then add the okras, halved. If necessary, add a bit of water. Let simmer for another 20 minutes or until the chicken is soft and the sauce thickened.
Ingredients for funge
300 gr fuba bass drum
Heat a pot of water and heat until boiling. Then add the cornmeal in portions, stirring constantly and forcefully, until dough is smooth and consistent. If necessary add a bit of boiling water, and start again. Serve with moamba.