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Liberia was never a destination on our wanderlust wish list. Political corruption, widespread crime and deadly disease outbreaks had given us the impression that this was a desolate place where only military or public health officials dared to venture.
Actually, Liberia is a beautiful country, nestled on the western coast of Africa between Sierra Leone, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. Mangrove-speckled forest coastlines give way to rolling grassland plateaus as you travel inland from the Pepper Coast. Liberia’s 43,000 square miles – just a bit smaller than Ohio – are dotted with beachside barbecues, colonial cities and tropical rainforests.
Read about its cuisine and Liberia becomes lovelier still. Hearty stews ladled over fluffy rice, delicious sweets inspired by the American South, and a bounty of local fruits and vegetables.
You don’t have to travel all the way to West Africa to sample Liberia’s uniquely exotic cuisine, only to St. Cece’s in Corktown. That’s a trip we can manage.
Kitchen Ramarj is a new popup by Amina Marhaba, a Liberian-born chef with Lebanese family roots. She’ll be serving up four courses of authentic Liberian and Middle Eastern recipes tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 11) from 5-11 p.m.
If you’re thinking that Liberian cuisine might be too exotic for you, just take a look at tonight’s menu. Amina has designed a super approachable lineup of dishes to introduce you to the dishes of West Africa.
Dinner starts off with Tripoli Bites, a taste of the Mediterranean. Vegetables roasted in olive oil are accompanied by Lebanese hummus topped with feta and black olives, the perfect set of nibbles to ease your way into the region.
Up next are Monrovia wings, named for Liberia capital city on the Atlantic coast. Liberian style spicy chicken wings are rubbed with exotic spices and slathered with a spicy peanut butter sauce. Yes, the spices and the peanut butter are an unusual twist on chicken wings, but they’re still chicken wings! Everyone can get behind a well-prepared set of wings.
Now that you’ve been introduced to the flavors or Liberia, it’s time to get to know one of the country’s most popular dishes: palm butter stew. Typically made with boiled palm nuts, which are pounded into a soup base, plenty of recipes just call for peanuts or peanut butter. Kitchen Ramarj’s version simmers farm raised hens and tender beef in the sauce, slow cooked with exotic Liberian spices. The stew is served over a delicately fragrant white jasmine rice.
Dessert is a reflection of Liberia’s unique baking tradition, something you won’t find anywhere else in West Africa. Amina is baking up a wonderful batch of banana rice bread. The bread is served with a shot of nonalcoholic Liberian ginger beer.
Tickets for tonight’s popup dinner cost $40 and are available online (get your bevs at the bar at St. Cece’s, drinks are not included). For more information about Kitchen Ramarj and upcoming popups, check out their Facebook page.