I have discovered the suya. Just down the road on Peckham High Street is a place selling skewer after sizzling skewer of this African street food. The suya originated in Nigeria and is basically like an African kebab; thin strips of meat are rubbed with ground peanuts and spices and then grilled. A traditional accompaniment is sliced tomato and onion.
I’ve been eyeing up Obalende Suya Express ever since I moved to Peckham. It’s a scruffy little place, the waiting area consisting of a few battered chairs that look like they came from an old boys’ club in Blackpool about 20 years ago; the paint peels from the walls and there’s a strip of those plastic backlit signs above the counter a la classic ‘bab shop. Behind it though, is the grill, and this is where the magic happens. I tried hard to remember the last time I’d eaten such smoke infused meat. It didn’t happen.
My beef suya strips were tender in the middle and then almost jerky-like at the edges, with treasures of crisp fat. Even the jollof rice was good and I’ve never really been a fan; it was almost dry yet not claggy, held together with an orange, hot peppered paste which hummed in our mouths. The really big surprise though, was the fried plantain. I’ve always struggled with its sweetness and often mushy texture but Obalende had cooked theirs with a touch of acidity and boy, does it make all the difference.
We scuttled off to a nearby park bench (classy as ever) and forked as much as possible onto each white plastic tine. Suya is officially my new takeaway of choice. Okay maybe not ultimately more than jerk but there are similarities; the chilli, ginger and garlic are there but it’s the ground peanuts that take this off in a different direction. Once you’ve chosen your meat from the selection of beef, goat, gizzards, chicken, lamb, fish or er, ‘crocodile/shark’, they sprinkle some of the extra meat rub on top. It’s like a soft-hot smoke bomb going off in your mouth.
The portions are enormous; we paid £5.75 each and neither of us finished. If I had one criticism I suppose I could say that it looked a bit of a mess, but then this is street food. It’s all about the flavour and a wise eye and greedy appetite will see its beauty. Their website claims that “many publications” have dubbed them the ‘African MacDonald’s’ but I think this gives the wrong impression. It’s fast food, yes but 100% genuine and it’s got guts. It’s classic Peckham, let’s face it.
Obalende Suya Express
43 Peckham High Street
Tel: 020 7703 7033