A Taste of HappinessThursday, October 21, 2021
We came across their Instagram page, made a call, then went in search of Happiness.
The address was in Ironshore Industrial Estate, Montego Bay. We pulled into the plaza and found the restaurant at the rear. The spot, 9jajam African Restaurant, and it served authentic Nigerian food with influences from Ghana, as well.
We asked for Happiness, and she came out from the kitchen and greeted us, eyes smiling above the mask. She was ready to dish on all that we wanted to know.
“I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but I grew up in Accra, Ghana. My entire life has revolved around the kitchen. Since I was a baby till now. After school back then in Abuja I'd go straight to my sister's restaurant and since there's usually no one at home, that is where I get to eat my lunch and take home food for dinner, as well. I grew up seeing my brothers pounding yam every Sunday; pounded yam and egusi soup was our go-to meal on Sundays. In a typical Nigerian home you eat rice and stew on Sundays but at our home we eat pounded yam and egusi coming from Osun and Ibadan origin,” Happiness Adeleke, co-founder and managing director, 9jajam African Restauarant, told Thursday Food.
“Back then in high school for my West African Examinations Council (WAEC) exam on food and nutrition I made pounded yam and egusi soup; that's how involved I was in the culinary field. I never developed my passion for cooking until I went to Ghana for my first degree. I studied business management in Accra. I worked at the first doctoral business school in Africa, Nobel International Business School in Accra, Ghana, as the marketing manager which is far from what I'm currently pursuing. However, during my postgraduate years I ventured into private caterings and events for colleagues, classmates and friends. I love expressing my ideas through food because you can include everyone,” Adeleke added.
“The idea actually came about a couple years ago. As newlyweds, my husband and I decided to visit Jamaica,” she added. “While I was pregnant and craving for the good old fufu and egusi soup, I realised in the entire St James, Jamaica, there was no Nigerian restaurant. Oh Lord, I was frustrated! You know the feeling you get when you want something so bad and you can't get it? We went around, did some research and saw that the environment was actually conducive [to starting a Nigerian restaurant]. I called my brother in Mexico, who owns a Nigerian restaurant, and asked for advice and guidance on how to open a restaurant in a foreign country. It was extremely difficult initially, because I did a lot of research to learn the rudiments of how to operate a restaurant. We decided to grab the opportunity, to create the concept of an African restaurant, something unique, something amazing where Jamaicans and Africans on the island could feel like they are back home from a long trip to relax and remind themselves of our sun-kissed flavours from Africa,” Adeleke explained.
“With the years spent in Jamaica I realised Jamaicans have always been proud to identify as Africans, so I wanted to create something to showcase what we do, our heritage, our culture and tradition through food and to give everyone on the island a platform to elevate their taste buds and try several new authentic Nigerian and Ghananian cuisines,” she added.
“With over 5,000 Nigerians on the island and 1,000 Ghanaians, I must say wow, I never knew Nigerians were so much on the island till we opened the restaurant. We have doctors and nurses as customers from Nigeria and I must say I'm very proud to see Nigerians working on the island in such prestigious jobs. The warm reception from our lovely Jamaican brothers and sisters is absolutely something that keeps us moving. Jamaicans are also much more open to exotic cuisines, especially when it relates to Africa,” Adeleke added further.
She also spoke on what the top sellers were and the similarities found in Jamaican food.
“Jollof rice. This is one of Nigeria's staple dishes, often served at parties and other festive gatherings, and is eaten in every part of the country. It is served with ripe sweet plantains, chicken or beef and corn on the cob. This dish is not only popular in Nigeria and Ghana but also in some other West African countries. Along with other Nigerian favourites such as egusi soup (made with ground melon seeds and ugwu leaf), served with garri (cassava grits, also known as eba natively) or pounded yam (iyan or fufu). These are some of our top sellers in the restaurant. Other dishes to try are thick, spicy broths made with okra and ogbono and flavoured with seafood, chicken or beef. Beef suya, a Nigerian favourite is made with carefully selected spices and placed on skewers; it is specially known as spicy Nigerian kebabs,” Adeleke noted.
“Jamaican dishes incorporate yams and plantains, efo leaves called callaloo here in Jamaica, rice and peas, known as waakye in Nigeria and Ghana. Fried dumplings similar to Nigeria's buns or puff puff. Flavours from Jamaica and Africa are not far-fetched in smilarities. Jamaica has loads of flavours and spices which are similar to Nigeria; for instance, our spicy grilled chicken is just a few inches away from the jerk chicken, our fried rice is almost similar to Jamaica's seasoned rice,” she informs.
Adeleke added, “We opened what will be our first location in June 2021, in a pandemic and we are managing to sustain it despite the COVID-19 interruption; this is a great achievement. We are mainly Nigerian in concept and we deliver 100% authentic Nigerian-African-inspired dishes. Our plan is to bring our authentic quality food merged with modern African fusion of fine dining to the beautiful island of Jamaica and become a household name in the country. We offer in-house catering services, private dinners, takeout, delivery, and catering for weddings and events. Above all, we are making our presence felt in the industry, and the mission is to claim the top spot as the best African restaurant on the island,” Adeleke concluded.
Thursday Food reckons it's safe to say we found 'Happiness'!
Address: Unit 6 Bhavela Plaza Ironshore Industrial Estate, Providence Drive Montego Bay, St James
Contact number: 876-462-4255
Normal Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Fridays 12:00 noon to 5:00 pm, Saturdays 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Fun fact: 9ja equates to Naija (Nigeria)