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Consider yourself a fearless heat-seeker? A few bites into your spicy fish pepper soup at the Nigerian restaurant Buka in Clinton Hill, and you’ll start wishing you’d started on the other dishes first and left the fiery bowl for last. If this is your first visit to this Nigerian restaurant, or any other, you’re in for a thrilling ride.
Buka is among the few places in Brooklyn, or all of New York City for that matter, serving Nigerian cuisine, so don’t feel intimidated if nothing on the menu sounds familiar at first. A little recon before your visit will go a long way.
Your friends may recommend that you order fufu, a classic West African mash of yam or cassava, topped with one of Buka’s intense sauces. The fresh white-yam fufu is a must, especially when doused in egusi, a sauce made with melon seeds, spinach and dried fish. Try the jollof rice, a West African pilaf served on special occasions and shot through with onions, hot peppers and spices like curry powder and cumin. The rice pairs beautifully with the dodo, fried sweet plantains. Get some suya on the table too – the grilled, cayenne-spiced steak is sliced thinly and served as an appetizer or an entrée paired with yam fries – a Nigerian steak-frites.
To control the heat buildup as you eat – since the spiciness of the jollof and other milder-sounding dishes like the moi moi (honey-bean cakes with boiled egg) will sneak up on you – take spoonfuls of the cooling yam fufu whenever your taste buds need a break.
Spend some time gazing around at the contemporary African art on the walls, if you can take your eyes off the yellow Nigerian city bus that occupies the entire front part of the dining room. The bus looks like it rolled off a Lagos street onto a ship and found its way to Brooklyn. It’s a shot of nostalgia for the local West African community, which makes up much of the clientele here on any given night. Buka deserves a wider audience, although the intimate vibe is part of its charm.
Now that you’ve sampled a few dishes and primed yourself for the fiercely hot soup, dive in. If you ordered the fish version – there’s one made with goat too – you’ll find a whole roasted tilapia in there. Its juicy flesh will soak up the peppery broth and deliver a no-joke punch. This can be incredibly pleasurable or frankly painful, depending on your tastes. Wash the soup down with an ice-cold Foreign Extra, a Guinness version that’s rarely found stateside, and come back for more.
Dessert won’t be necessary if you order the pof pof, bite-size Nigerian donuts, from the appetizer menu. The aptly named puffs will arrive bubbling hot, their insides doughy and utterly impossible to stop eating. On busy nights, the kitchen will occasionally run out, so tell your server to reserve an order for you – and bring it out last for a sweet, unforgettable ending.