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The Benue river, running in Benue State, is the second-largest river in Nigeria. Commonly referred to as the breadbasket, where the river flows through it acts as a vastly important transportation route. With land rich for planting, the best produce in Nigeria can be found here.
For owners Josette and David Boyo that very river and state would act as inspiration for their Nigerian restaurant The Benue.
"Benue is the food basket of Nigeria", says Josette. "It's known for outsourcing a lot of yam, rice, beans. So we took that name... it just fit. Some people call us and say 'well, I'm from the Benue!'"
Nigerian food isn't that common in Toronto, a city with almost everything food-wise, and the Boyo's wanted to change that. They recognized that this kind of food wasn't available to the downtown core, and that's when the idea of a restaurant began to grow. They set up shop last November in the middle of the pandemic and have been growing ever since.
"The thing with Nigerian food is it is bursting with flavour. Culturally, there's just a lot that goes into the food. A lot of love, a lot of spices, a lot of pepper," says Josette.
Beginning with the pastries, there are a few different types to try. The scotch egg is one of the favourites, with the meat pie and sausage roll offered as well.
Combos are king, with six different combo options available for order.
"It comes with jollof rice, of course. Every single Nigerian party you go to there will be jollof rice."
Fried plantains and a fried turkey drumstick or wing complete the favourite combo option. What you get from The Benue is being eaten by the country of Nigeria on the daily back in the homeland.
It's easy to understand the fanaticism behind jollof rice when you try this version. Tomato-based, the rice is cooked in tomatoes, adding that rich color and deep flavor. It comes off very warm and comforting as if they just served it from their kitchen stove. The food tastes homemade, and that's exactly the intention.
Egusi stew is one of the more popular offerings. Made with pumpkin seeds, spinach, crayfish and dried fish, this stew is a staple dish in Nigerian households. From the first bite to the last the core philosophy of having flavour in each rings through in this dish. It's deeply flavoured and hearty in nature.
"Yes, egusi is very popular here. That's crushed pumpkin seeds that are sort of fried and simmered down. You always usually pair it with swallow." Josette then motions with her hands, acting as if she's picking up the swallow and scooping it into the stew.
Pounded yam transforms into swallow by the pounding of boiled yam. Elastic and soft just like bread dough would be, its use is to mop up whatever's in front of you.
A favourite for Josette is the goat, which is stewed in tomato sauce. Tomato imparts flavour, and the stewing process breaks down the tough goat meat, ending with a dish that's very easy to enjoy. She says she would have it every day if she could.
Carbonated and sweet, La Casera Apple is a very popular drink in Nigeria. Refreshing and tastes like a crisp green apple, making it a great accompaniment to the spice that The Benue brings forth in their food. If you're at a Nigerian party, you'll most likely see a few people walking around with Vita Malt. Much like beer but without the alcohol, malt is brewed from barley, hops and water, and often times colouring is added to give it that dark, rich malted beverage look.
The Benue has successfully brought the taste of Nigeria to the downtown core of Toronto. From the fried pastries, the jollof rice included in every combo, the egusi stew and swallow, along with the many authentic drinks, you can now expand your delivery options to include all of Nigeria.
They are located at 440 Christie Street on the south side of Davenport Road.