Evans Osinga grew up as the second-oldest of five children in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Though his mother did much of the cooking, both she and Osinga’s father travelled regularly for work. Custom may have dictated that one of Osinga’s younger sisters pick up the responsibility of helping prepare meals for the busy family, but they were too young, and Evans Osinga loved cooking the dishes he had watched his mother make.
“When my mother cooked, I just observed her,” Osinga said. “So from there, it became something that was very fun to do. And when you can cook you have the luxury of eating anything you want, any time you want.”
Thanks to Osinga’s decision to launch his home-delivery African food business African Cuisine at the end of 2017, Hanoians now also have the luxury of eating the West African specialties they want, at (almost) any time they want. The menu includes hearty but healthy meals like chicken with white rice, black eyed peas and stew, jollof rice, a dense and meaty scotch egg, and an array of soups including cat fish pepper soup and ogbono soup—all prepared by Osinga at his home in Tay Ho. Customers can place orders by phone or Facebook and they’ll be delivered right to your door (sometimes by the man himself).
The business is welcome in a city with a tiny African culinary presence. Osinga heard there was another African restaurant that closed down a while ago, but during his two years in Hanoi he has noticed a growing number of African expats, working as diplomats, English teachers and businesspeople. Other customers are expats from other parts of the world and local Vietnamese, all eager to try African food in a city where it’s still a novelty, or to try it for the first time in their lives.
“I want everybody from every part of the world to try it,” Osinga says. “It’s always a good meal. I call it food that can make you strong.”
Though Osinga has always loved to cook, it took a move to Hanoi almost two years ago to create the opportunity for him to open African Cuisine. Previously, he lived in Malaysia where he worked as a technical consultant for IBM. When his wife got a job as principal of a montessori school in Hanoi, Evans moved here with her and their toddler son.
His wife had long encouraged him to turn his passion for cooking into a business, but it took catering her birthday party here to convince him that he could handle the logistics of cooking for a big crowd while maintaining the quality he was used to at home.
The first day was a challenge, exacerbated by the immediate interest generated by advertisements in Hanoi expat Facebook groups.
“We started by just cooking a very small portion of food to try it out, and it all sold out,” Osinga recalls of the hectic first day.
“We ran short of some food, I had to start cooking again, delivery was late, we had no delivery guy, I had to do the cooking and the packing, and my wife was taking the orders, but she also had a full time job.”
Now, the process has become a bit more standardised. Every morning, Evans wakes up by 8am to buy vegetables at a market near his house. The goat is Australian, the chicken from Lotte, and the beef from a local supplier. He aims to finish the cooking by 10 am so it’s ready for the lunch rush. He also packages and labels each item so it’s easy to get orders together.
Sarah, a native of Malawi living with her husband and two of their three sons in Ciputra, has ordered from African Cuisine four times. Though the West African food currently emphasised at African Cuisine differs from South and East African food, the meats are prepared similarly, she says. And many of the ingredients she uses to cook Malawian food at home are hard to come by in Hanoi, so African Cuisine fills a void—it’s the only African restaurant she knows of in the city, and it’s good.
“Of course there’s always going to be that wrangle over which is better. Nigerian jolof rice or Gambian jolof rice,” she says.
Evans is in talks to occupy the kitchen of a Tay Ho bar. Hopefully, he’ll begin serving customers there and then decide if he wants to scale up to a restaurant of his own. For now, though, Hanoi’s sole purveyor of African food is a one-man enterprise still in its early stages. Evans is experimenting with new menu items, like an avocado-stuffed vegetarian-friendly scotch egg and chocolate and peanut butter desserts.
Even as he experiments dishes that fuse global influences, however, he’s focused on living up to the goal of providing meals that span a continent, as implied by the name he chose for his service.
“I’m from Nigeria, but we called it African Cuisine because our aim was to go deep into Africa,” Osinga says. “It’s not just about Nigeria or West Africa. We want go to the north, the south, every part of Africa.”