The smell of hookah hits my nostrils as I round the street corners in search of L’African Explorer. This little Rwandese gem is tucked away on a fairly conspicuous street in the Belleville neighborhood, just behind l’Hopital St. Louis. Word on the street was that not only was the food excellent, but the owner’s story was equally, if not more appetizing. The not so conspicuous bright, yellow restaurant facade and bamboo window shades peaked my interest and suggested that this was not going to be a typical Parisian “experience gastronomique”.
We were welcomed by the owner who sat us and then offered us one of their specialty drinks. Who can turn down a spicy ginger Ti Punch or Bissap Cocktail? He warned me that is was quite spicy, and I happily accepted. The food was nothing less than exceptional. My friend had tanzanian squid with coconut milk sauce (to die for!) and I had Rwandese ragout which is beef with onions, tomatoes, red beans marinated in spices, which vaguely resembled a chili con carne – delicious! Encompassing each main dish is a selection of about eight or so accompaniments regional to Rwanda (rice, sweet potato puree, sautéed manioc greens, etc.). After discovering our affinity for “spicy”, he brought two forms, one liquid and one a sort of salsa, of the pili pili, or “African bird’s eye”, pepper.
The restaurant celebrated 7 years in March. But what I wanted to know, was why Pierre (otherwise known as “Pop”), decided to open an African restaurant, of all things. For 17 years, this man was abroad doing humanitarian work, either in African with Medecins Sans Frontieres, or in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia working as a coordinator for tsunami relief. He’s worked for the UNHCR, otherwise known as the UN Refugee Agency. What a life!
How does one go from refugee advocate to restaurant owner? Pop explained that he and his wife, who is Rwandan, wanted to take a little “pause”. Quite a successful pause it has been! They plan to open around six or so new Jambos around Paris in the next year. He insists that the quality won’t be compromised, as the food will continue to be prepared fresh daily, as is it now.
It’s amazing to think of all the stories not yet discovered, behind doors that could be just a mere three blocks from where you go home to every night, streets passed daily and never noticed. One thing is for sure – this is one story worth “tasting” for yourself. We promise you won’t be disappointed!
Jambo, L’African Explorer
23, rue Sainte Marthe
01 42 45 46 55