After moving to Stuttgart, we perhaps ironically discovered not only German cuisine, but also African cuisine, most notably Ethiopian. I say "African cuisine" with the full knowledge that Africa is a huge continent with a great variety in its cuisine from coast to coast, and yet I'm still just starting to learn what that variety looks like. Thanks to several trips to Ambiente Africa in Stuttgart-Mitte, I'm continuing my adventure through Africa one dish at a time.
We last dined at Ambiente Africa two weekends ago when my brother-in-law was in town. Though he can get amazing Ethiopian food in Washington, D.C. (where he lives), we thought it would a great place to take him not only to satisfy our curiosity as to the quality of the food, but also because they serve a number of vegetarian options to suite his palate. The menu features a range of dishes labeled as being from North, South, and West Africa, though the owners come from Eritrea. For the meat-eaters, Ambiente Africa is also a fun option because they serve a number of unusual meats, like ostrich, antelope, crocodile, and zebra. I remember trying all of them (except the zebra) as part of the Bush Platter on my first visit, which seems to be a great option for first-time diners looking for a memorable meal.
In fact, dining at Ambiente Africa is always a fun experience because from the moment you step into the restaurant, you feel like you've stepped into a movie-set version of an African hut. The walls are decorated with plates and carvings, while the ceiling is decorated to look like the round roof of a hut. In a room off to the side, they have low tables and pillows so that you can dine while sitting on the floor. Even the bathroom sink looks striking: it's filled with river stones and rose petals. Although I find the overall effect can verge on being kitschy, I can appreciate the effort that the owners have gone through to make their dining experience unique in Stuttgart.
On this particular visit, I decided to start with the Ugali appetizer. The texture reminds me of thick grits or polenta, which makes sense since ugali is usually made with cornmeal. At Ambiente Africa, they serve it spiced and topped with a kind of yogurt sauce. I first tried ugali on a previous visit with a colleague who'd worked in Tanzania, where she used to eat it when she was invited to people's homes. Though she said it was considered a kind of homey comfort food, she'd come to really love it, and the ugali here did not disappoint. On this occasion, I was happy to order it again and pass it around the table so that the others could discover the great taste, too.
For my entrée, I tried the Dagomba, a kind of rich stew from North Africa with lamb meat, okra, zucchini, onions, peppers, and eggplant in a coconut sauce over gari (mashed cassava). I generally try to order the gari dishes when I dine at Ambiente Africa since I love the soft, slightly sticky texture that goes perfectly with stews. I particularly enjoyed the combination of okra and eggplant in this one, as it can be somewhat difficult to find okra in Southern Germany unless we're dining at African or Indian restaurants. I also got to choose my spice level, and I was happy with my choice of scharf (hot). Our friend who also ordered the Dagomba ordered his sehr scharf (very hot), and though it had a palatable heat to it, the stew lost some of its rich spice and flavor as the peppers took over.
On the other side of the table, my husband and brother-in-law ordered the Kochbanane, a dish made with plantains cooked in a tomato sauce with red onions, peppers, garlic, and sweet bananas. My husband ordered the dish with chicken, though my brother-in-law ordered his without meat. I still preferred my lamb dish with okra, but it was nice to hear from my brother-in-law that the food was equal to some of those that he's tried at Ethiopian restaurants in D.C.
Even though my husband enjoyed his dish more than our last visit, I do think I've enjoyed richer sauces at Injeera, our other favorite African restaurant in Stuttgart. Still, there's greater variety at Ambiente Africa and it's the only place I've found so far with ugali and gari. I should also mention that they have pretty great cocktails, too, like Mojitos and a punch-like mixture called the "African Queen", and a happy hour every day from 17:00 until 20:00.
Ambiente Africa is located on Werastrasse 1, about a three or four block walk west from the Charlottenplatz U-bahn station. They are open from Tuesday through Saturday starting at 17:00 until 23:00. Make sure you call ahead for a reservation as they tend to fill up fast.
Have you ever been to Ambiente Africa? What was your impression of the food?