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Finger Licking Good

If you like Cajun and Southern food, try this West African restaurant.

Check out the colorful kitchen and interior of Finger Licking Bukateria, housed in a charming old Bennigan's.

I laughed at my own inelegance as I sucked the last of the fufu from my fingers at the aptly named Finger Licking Bukateria one Sunday afternoon, the dough clinging stubbornly to the thumb and index finger on my right hand. Sure, there was a metal bowl of water to my right I could have used to clean the fufu off — but that's missing the point here. The restaurant is called "Finger Licking" for a reason, and I didn't want to waste any of the precious yam dough by washing it off.

Across the table, my coworker Steve — who once lived in Ghana, the birthplace of fufu — was licking the dough off his own fingers in more practiced movements, then quickly dunking his hand back into the warm soup for another round. Forget double-dipping; the true test of friendship is eating food that everyone at the table keeps dipping their fingers into.

Fashion a spoon out of the fufu and use it to eat the thick egusi "soup."
Troy Fields
Fashion a spoon out of the fufu and use it to eat the thick egusi "soup."

Location Info

Map

Finger Licking Bukateria

9811 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77036

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Outer Loop - SW

Details

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Suya: $2.99
Fufu: $5.41
Egusi soup: $7.41
Pepper soup: $10
Jollof rice: $11.82
Curry rice: $11.82


READ MORE
SLIDESHOW: It Really Is Finger-Licking Good at Finger Licking Bukateria
BLOG POST: Of Fufu and Roux: A Nigerian-American Love Story


Dark green coins of okra had been cooked down in a simple base of tomatoes and onion for the soup, a few assorted beef parts thrown in for added flavor. Much like injera bread in Ethiopian cuisine, fufu is used as both a starchy side dish and a utensil, served in a large, soft, white mound that looks and feels like raw dumpling dough, but is made from pounded yam flour. Tear off a piece and fashion a small, edible spoon, then dunk it into your soup and swallow the entire bite whole.

The soup was getting everywhere, spider-silk threads of boiled okra stretching from the bowl almost to our faces before snapping and breaking. We were having so much fun that afternoon, messy hands and faces calling to mind toddlers, that I suddenly was sorry it'd taken me so long to get back here again.

It had been over a year, but walking into the funky old revamped Bennigan's that houses Finger Licking was nothing like my last visit; there was a palpable difference in the atmosphere of the ten-year-old restaurant: fresh paint, pared-down decor, a friendly smile from the man who greeted us and took our group to a table in a sunny corner.

The restaurant had only opened an hour before, but was already out of many breakfast items. It didn't surprise me. In addition to being the flagship West African restaurant in the area, Finger Licking is also the largest and the most popular. By the time we left, the churches in the neighborhood had let out, and it was packed to its stained-glass ceilings with customers.

Along with the bowls of fufu and soup, we'd ordered up a West African feast that Sunday: beef and chicken suya, or Nigerian kebabs seasoned with ground peanuts, paprika, garlic and other spices; jollof rice, a tomato-stewed rice with a signature Guinea pepper kick to it; and a breakfast dish of briny scrambled eggs mixed with sautéed onions and delicate flakes of catfish, served alongside a pile of chewy plantains, all of it recommended by our helpful waiter.

With the exception of the Guinea pepper (also called alligator pepper for its powerful, sneaky bite), none of those ingredients is particularly exotic to most Texans. Yet Nigerian cuisine in Houston — and Finger Licking Bukateria, ground zero for West African food in the city — has been mostly ignored over the years, even by those who proclaim to be "adventurous" "foodies" willing to eat nearly anything. It's shunned for being "too exotic," despite its similarities to well-loved Cajun and Southern cuisines, despite the friendliness of the people who eagerly serve and explain the food.

It's a conundrum Tina Edebor knows all about.
_____________________

Edebor and her husband, Eghosa, are the new partners at Finger Licking Bukateria. The Edebors took over Finger Licking Bukateria in November, and the place already seems different under their stewardship, even if the ownership itself is still the same.

Owners Bola Ogunjinmi and his wife Funke, who developed the menu, split their time between Lagos and Houston. Without daily guidance from the Ogunjinmis, Finger Licking had been suffering — the service was inconsistent and so was the food, and the old Bennigan's building had started to look worse for the wear. And that wasn't something Tina Edebor was going to stand for, having been a steadfast fan of Finger Licking since it opened in 2002.

Edebor and her husband were already busy — they run two community newspapers between them, and Eghosa serves as president of Houston's Nigerian Foundation — but were eager to help their old friends, the Ogunjinmis, revamp their old business. "We want to be the go-to restaurant for African food," she explains. Both husband and wife seem determined to change the way African food is viewed in Houston

"Our food is not mainstream," admits Edebor. "So you have to be willing to come in and taste it." But she's optimistic that — as with many cuisines once thought terribly and terrifyingly exotic, like sushi — it will eventually find a foothold of its own. "I think a lot of these ethnic restaurants [in Houston] underwent a general resistance by the populace until time changed their palates."

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7 comments
Hopeedebor
Hopeedebor

Great writing. Good and effective management makes a lot of difference.

Tosin
Tosin

Finger Licking Bukateria is the best Nigerian restaurant in not just Houston, but Texas, hands down. Their food is wonderful and their service is mostly acceptable. I appreciate the owners for working so hard to provide a comfortable atmosphere for the Nigerians in Houston to dine. I have even seen people of different races eating there from Chinese to Caucasian, which I love. As a Nigerian, I am very critical of Nigerian food because I know how it should taste. Food from Finger Licking has an authentic taste. You should definitely try it if you have never been there! Their jollof rice with fish is my favorite!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Katharine - thank you so much for going out of your way to taking us to places we may not dare to dine. Much respect and love. Seriously.

Grub Lover
Grub Lover

Usually agree with your review but as someone who has many Nigerian friends, their thoughts of Finger Licking Bukateria is less than favorable. Many compare it to the quality of a Chili's or some chain restaurant, not authentic at all and not good. They eat there from time to time because it's one of the few Nigerian restaurants in Houston. I haven't gone for myself but if true Nigerians aren't fans of it, that kind of says a lot.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

It makes me so happy to think that people might try something new or broaden just one horizon as a result of something I wrote. I write for y'all, for all the readers out there without whom I'd be and have nothing. Thank you so much for that comment; it really means a lot to me. Merry Christmas. :)

Nosaprise
Nosaprise

This is nigerian food made by nigerians it doesn't get more authentic then that. I suggest you go try it out first. making any kind of second hand review on a place youve never been based on others opinions seem kinda silly.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

To me, the restaurant is drastically different now that the Edebors have taken over. I didn't recognize the food or the service from just a year ago; it's improved vastly.

 
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