The Jew And The Carrot

Nigerian Buka Gets Authentic (Jewish) Touch

By Lisa Amand

  • Print
  • Share Share
Nat Goldberg with her partner, Lookman Mashood, at Buka, their Brooklyn restaurant.

Getting Nat Goldberg to stop for a minute is no small feat.

The Nigerian restaurant Buka, which she co-owns with partner and chef Lookman Mashood, is hopping. Their spice-selling store just opened and African Restaurant Week is going strong through Oct. 20th with three-course, $28.95-prix-fixes and a Friday night hip-hop DJ party.

Far from Goldberg’s Australian home, Jewish upbringing and architecture career, the couple’s business has created a buzz, having turned a narrow, brick-lined law office in a a newly hip corner of the Clinton Hill neighborhood into a happening, art and music-filled eatery.

“She designed it and I built it,” Mashood, a professional carpenter, says with pride, before popping back into the open-galley kitchen to oversee cooks and put together a catering order.

Recipe: Nat Goldberg’s Nigerian Chicken Pepper Soup

Goldberg believes their ethnic eatery featuring recipes from Mashood’s family and the country’s myriad ethnic groups, filled a void. Unless you really knew where to go, where to find New York’s innocuous, hole-in-wall places, you couldn’t eat Nigerian food in the city, she said. The meaning of Buka is small, side-of-the-road restaurant, maybe lacking in appearance but totally delivering in quality.

And the city’s Nigerian community has embraced them, according to Goldberg, who believes 70% of their customers are from Nigeria.

New Yorkers with a sense of adventure gravitate to Buka for cow feet or goat head cooked in Igbo spices. Goldberg is not kidding when she says the food is hot. No fusion here. Nor do they “tone down foods to suit the American palate.”

There are dimensions to the dishes that defy the norm. Oha soup is a hearty melange of beef, smoked fish and oha leaves. More fish, this time dried, appears in egusi with ground melon seeds steamed with spinach. Since there’s no such thing as appetizers in Nigerian cuisine, the section of the menu marked as that, actually offers street foods like yam fries, honey bean cake (moi moi), meat pies and grilled tiger shrimp.

During high school summer vacations, Goldberg visited her father who was living in Nigeria and grew to know and respect West African traditions (eating with the right hand) and cooking.

While not kosher (many Nigerians are Muslim), Buka’s halal food has similarities: no pork, no dairy. And the little oil that’s used in the kitchen is palm oil.

Many main courses, like tilapia, red snapper, chicken and igbin (large land snails) are saucy tomato, onion and red pepper-based.

If diners are impressed, and it’s hard not to be by the unusual, assertive flavors, and want to replicate Buka’s dishes, the new market will supply exotic spices, stocks, leaves, recipes and beauty products.

Goldberg, whose father’s family is from Israel and mother’s from Hungary, sometimes yearns for Eastern European foods. Since she lives in Williamsburg, she has only to go to Greenpoint for Polish delicacies that satisfy those cravings. Fortunately there are Jewish relatives here to spend holidays with, since she travels to Australia only every few years.

Goldberg, 38, came to Brooklyn from Melbourne, via London where she worked as an architect. In New York she was employed by Robert Stern for five years.

The couple met in Fort Greene five years ago and soon were planning a project that may have loomed in Mashood’s dreams, but for Greenberg was an unexpected turn in the road. Yet their vision was spot on. Not only was there a lack of Nigerian restaurants with the level of service and professionalism they wanted to create, but she says Clinton Hill was a gentrifying neighborhood and Fulton Street already boasted several African businesses.

Now Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant is attracting African merchants and customers so 1318 Fulton St. seemed like the right address for their new Buka Market.

Of course as authentic as the cuisine is at Buka, not everything can be done exactly as in Nigeria. Like fufu, the pliable round of white yams that one tears off to push and spoon stews and soups (not that one can’t get utensils here). In Africa, yams are pounded with a big mortar and pestle to make fufu, explains Goldberg. “We can’t do that here. If we did, the floor would cave in.”

Brooklyn’s African Restaurant Row from Craig Duff on Vimeo.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: nigerian, new york, nat goldberg, buka, brooklyn

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.