While Irish might have Pub food, Congolese have NGanda food. Nganda is the Lingala term for rustic restaurants or taverns that is common to see in popular neighborhoods in Brazzaville. The food that you will usually find there are mostly grilled meat cooked on charcoal.
Even though my mother didn’t like us to eat Nganda food because of the doubtful aspect of the cleanliness of these places, once a week she will go to a popular street named Rue MBaka, known for its food market where some of the best BBQ meats were cooked, to get Ya Jean for takeout.
My siblings and I were waiting for this moment like kids wait for Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. It was that good. How can I explain what is a Ya Jean? It’s hard to explain.
Basically, Ya Jean is either made with lamb or beef, however purists will favor goat meat. The meat is cooked twice, first on the charcoal, then wrapped up with a parchment paper and put back on the charcoal until it’s ready to serve.
The recipe doesn’t require a lot of ingredients, but it require your full attention because since you must cook the meat twice, it’s important to not overcook the meat during the first half of the cooking process. Keep in mind that, my recipe is certainly nowhere close to what you might get at a Nganda in Brazzaville, I just tried my best to recreate the memories of Ya Jean from my childhood. Enjoy!
Prep: 15 min Cook: 40-45 min 4 servings
500 g of Lamb cut in cubes
500 g of Beef cut in cubes
¼ cup of White wine vinegar
¼ cup of African chili powder
Oil (I favor Grapeseed oil)
In two different mixing bowls (one for the beef and the other for lamb), add salt (to your taste), two tablespoons of vinegar, 1-2 teaspoon of chili powder and one tablespoon of oil to the meat and mix with your hands or a spoon. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, start your barbecue fire. You can watch numerous YouTube clips, like I do, if you don’t know how to start your fire. Just be safe.
Once your fire is on, put each meat on a basket used to cook vegetable on the barbecue. Place the baskets on top of the charcoal and let it cook for 20-25 minutes or until you think it’s enough for your liking. Make sure to stir the meat when halfway through.
Remove the baskets from the heat.
Line a piece of parchment paper on top of a sheet of aluminium foil. Place the meat on top of the parchment paper. Pour 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 tablespoon of oil on the meat before adding roughly chopped onions and season with salt (if necessary) then wrap it to avoid any leakage. Repeat the same exercise for each meat.
Put the packets back on top of the charcoal and let it cook for another 15 minutes or until you are ready to serve.
It’s traditionally served with slices of Chikwangue (steamed cassava bread) as side dish. However, it can be accompanied with fried plantains or rice.
Using white wine vinegar is one of my tricks. The original recipe simply requires a regular white vinegar. Vinegar has the effect of tenderizing meat.
Cooks in NGanda always add bouillon cubes in their marinades. However, since bouillon cubes are generally high in sodium, I decided to stick to kosher salt.