By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Mai Pham
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By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
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In the month and a half since they've taken over, Edebor has gotten serious about her role at the restaurant and the changes they've made: "Our number one concern is customer satisfaction," she says. "We try to make sure customers have what they need — personal interactions so that they know we care."
She and her husband both make it a point to stop by each table, offering tips on eating and ordering, at one point even promising to make a Ghanian stew for Steve and to help us locate some Senegalese food in town. Another visit, Tina gave me pointers for purchasing and making fufu from Southwest Farmers Market, an African grocery store across the parking lot.
Unsurprisingly, Finger Licking already has an enormous West African customer base, many of whom line up at the to-go window off the bar to pick up meat pies and sausage rolls in the evenings, or take in relaxed meals with their families on weekends. Where Edebor wants to expand is into other, non-African clientele. She even has a plan for newcomers.
9811 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77036
Region: Outer Loop - SW
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.
Egusi soup: $7.41
Pepper soup: $10
Jollof rice: $11.82
Curry rice: $11.82
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"It would be wise to start out with something familiar like rice with plantains and stew," she says, "because that's a familiar thing to the palate." Edebor's great-great-grandfather was a Nigerian slave taken to Brazil, who eventually returned to his country. She's quick to point out that many of the delicacies of Cajun and Southern food are just the great-great-grandchildren of West African dishes themselves as a result of those old slave trade routes.
The best example of this phenomenon is pepper soup, one of the signature dishes of West Africa. A friend of mine once termed it "primordial gumbo" after tasting the dark, spicy soup with a familiar hint of crawfish in the thin, chicken-based broth. (Pepper soup, with its thin broth, is considered a "drinking" soup, to be eaten with a spoon; "eating" soups like egusi are meant to be eaten with fufu and your hands.) Powdered, crushed crawfish is one of the most important ingredients in Nigerian cuisine, so much so that the little crustacean itself has been called "our beautiful, curvy Nigerian lady." It's this briny flavor that's instantly recognizable in the pepper soup, even if you ordered it with chicken, beef or catfish.
On my last visit to Finger Licking Bukateria, I ordered it for my dining companion, a local baker and Cajun food aficionado who'd never had Nigerian food before.
"If you put a blindfold on me and sat me in front of this to eat it," she said between gulps of soup, "I'd never know it was Nigerian food. It tastes so familiar!" The food had been a success for her virgin palate that night — but I'd had to cajole her into coming, of course. With only a few exceptions, I've had to cajole nearly everyone into trying Finger Licking Bukateria with me. Whether it's the name or the cuisine, trepidation runs high. And after each meal, like a kid stepping off a much-feared roller coaster, every one of them has asked: "When can we go again?"
It didn't hurt matters that the same cheerful waiter, Luc, was taking care of us again. When my friend corralled Luc to tell him how much she was enjoying the fufu, he laughed a bit and shook his head.
"I'm from Togo," he said. "We don't eat that stuff there." It's a mistake to think that everyone here is Nigerian; the waiters are from all over the world, while the kitchen crew and line cooks hail from Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.
After the pepper soup was finished and hesitations cast aside, my dining companion dove into the fufu. Her nimble baker's hands made quick work of the dough as she dunked it repeatedly into our egusi soup, the soft, fatty seeds of the egusi melon adding a sweetly nutty flavor to the greens, tomatoes and onions underneath.
As we waited to pay our bill later that night, my friend gazed at two Nigerian men across the way from us. "Look at the two of them," she said. "Breaking bread together. They're really breaking bread together," she chuckled as she pointed to the ball of fufu and bowl of soup they were sharing. "Now that's communal eating."
"Sharing a bowl with someone like that? Putting your fingers into each other's food all night?" she said. "That's from the heart. That's truly from the heart."
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.