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I stumbled upon the ElMandela restaurant just after Nelson Mandela passed on. Since I have always been fascinated by the hugely charismatic South African leader I decided to check out the unusual eatery that bears his name.
Besides, since the early 1970´s I have had an affinity with Africa. Two of my paternal aunts served as doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia and a paternal uncle was an English professor at the University of Ethiopia. I myself had traveled to Liberia to join my father who was working as an accountant for an American timber company, though I planned to head to the States afterwards.
I would however change those US-bound plans when I made the acquaintance of a nice Spanish couple and accepted their invitation; I came to Madrid in 1973 (and I’m still here). This did not mean that I’ve lost interest in Africa. In fact I have devoured books on the Dark Continent ever since – Nadine Gordimar´s The Soft Voice of the Servant, J.M. Coetzee’s Dusklands, Ernest Hemingway´s The Green Hills Of Africa, Joseph Conrad´s The Heart Of Darkness, Graham Green´s Journey Without Maps (based on his own arduous trip with cousin Barbara through Liberia in 1936). . . I always find something new each time I re-read this fascinating book by an author who never won the Nobel Prize but put Africa and South America on the literary map.
And thus with nostalgia I, akin to Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness, set out on a “journey” to the quaint ElMandela situated at a side street just opposite the Opera subway station. The biting cold outside made my hands tremble whilst taking a picture of the name of the restaurant. I was glad to learn that this eatery had been set up with the help of a Spanish association despite Spain’s difficulties due to the economic crisis.
Through the glass window I could see that all the seats were taken and they were doing brisk business indeed.
Once inside I was transported to Africa with the tantalizing music sung by someone who sounded so much like Miriam Makeba. African folklore is well represented with a multicolored lapa (a graceful garb worn by African women), ethnic carpets and masks. The vivid hues led me through the desert to Senegal, Mali, Kenya and Nigeria, touching my soul in the process. For a second I was a racing driver speeding through the deserts of the Kalahari!
All this extraordinary stuff blended with the evocative music and the aroma of the exotic food. One of the waiters handed me the menu card and all at once those odd names sounded familiar to me: Fufu with okro soup (wheat corn and cassava ), African-style chicken wings , acheque (dried cassava served with fish or meat ) and thiep dien (rice with vegetable and fish), zebra back with pepper sauce and grilled sirloin of zebra.
And there is a wide choice where wine is concerned. You can opt for local wine or beer or settle for the ones from South African or even nurse a steaming cup of Ethiopian, Kenyan or Cameroon coffee.
And for sweet-toothed diners there is carrot cake, banana pie or cassava fritters.
Whilst waiting to be served trendy lady customers can go over to the shelves next to the counter where enticing African costume jewelry are on display – bone bracelets, whistles, earrings, horn rings and necklaces. Clients will be happy to know that the money goes to the Akipi Association to finance the higher education of African children and the purchase of material for their studies: http://asociacionakipi.blogspot.com.es/
I saw this Spanish family enjoying their meal. Jaime Alvarez, the gentleman in the group, stood up and introduced himself while one of the charming ladies remarked, “This is absolutely delicious! We will come back.”
As I stepped out into the cold again I could just feel Nelson Mandela smiling that famous lovely smile of his. And I knew that he would have approved of his namesake restaurant and the whole idea behind it wholeheartedly.
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