A wedding feast of Pan African flavors. What a magical way to celebrate tying the knot.
“Which African country were the bride and groom from?” I ask chef and restauranteur Frank Anyangbe.
“Not from Africa. They are locals. Berliners. Regular diners here. They wanted to create a wedding party that would be different—special and memorable—for their guests. There is a growing fascination here in Germany with the flavors of Africa, perceived as exotic.”
Anyangbe’s restaurant is also sought out by culinary adventurous roots-oriented African Americans traveling in Europe. “It’s a surprise and a delight when people from the U.S. walk in the door and say, ‘Found you at last! We wanted to eat African in Berlin.’”
Pan Africa Berlin
We’re chatting in the inviting Africa-vibrant interior of Anyangbe’s restaurant, Pan Africa Berlin. Appropriately, bistro walls and archway details are painted Nigerian-flag green, the richness of the color giving a vibrating energy to some bold and beautiful African artwork. Nigeria, inhabited by 250 ethnic groups, is Africa’s most populous country, the world’s seventh most populous, and Africa’s largest economy. Anyangbe hails from cosmopolitan and historically fascinating Benin City, the capital of Edo State in southern Nigeria. It is known for its rich dress culture: think beads, bangles, anklets and color. The official language there is Edo which, naturally, Anyangbe speaks.
On top of this, he is trilingual. He is fluent in Russian, having initially studied for his business degree in Kiev in Ukraine—before moving to a university in Potsdam, a World Heritage city of palaces and royal parks near Berlin. Not surprisingly he is fluent in German, having lived in and around Berlin for more than a dozen years.
And he is conversant in English, which he learned from a young age at school, English being “the giant of Africa’s” official language.
Neukölln and the Church Organ
Anyangbe has chosen to locate his restaurant in an interesting part of Germany’s dynamic capital city; home to people from more than 180 nations.
Pan Africa Berlin is on a quiet neighborhood street not far from the vibrant cosmopolitan diversity of immigrant-rich Neukölln where he and his wife, Friedrun Portele-Anyangbe, and their three kids, Elias Nosa, 15, Benita 11, and Benjamin, 9, live in an apartment up a Catholic church tower. “When we sit in the bathroom on Sundays we hear the organ playing,” he laughs appreciatively.
From Neukölln you take a stroll to Richardplatz square in the historic Bohemian settlement of Rixdorf, known for its 18th-century houses and “village” ambiance. A couple of short blocks from Richardplatz, you’re at Anyangbe’s Pan-African eatery.
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Africa on Your Plate
Anyangbe had said to come after 4 p.m. because he’d be busy earlier catering the wedding.
Now he says, “Help yourself to leftovers.”
No second invitation needed.
We spoon a bit of this and a bit of that onto our dinner plates and while sipping Amarula colada—the South African liqueur blended with pineapple, rum and coconut cream—get to sample:
- A West African lentil salad with fresh tomatoes, onion and fresh parsley.
- A North African tomato and date salad.
- South Africa lettuce, mango, avocado, apricot and mango salad with a lively mustard sauce.
- His version of Senegal’s signature Yassa Poulet.
- Tasty Peanut Morogo from Uganda/Rwanda: a vegan dish with spinach, peppers, carrots, bush beans, string beans and other vegetables.
- A special Senegalese fish dish. “We get the fish from a Senegalese guy who brings them in.”
- A richly flavored Nigerian beef stew with tomato. “People have an idea African food is very hot,” Anyangbe says when I comment on the subtle complexities of the flavor and the uniqueness of each dish.
“If well prepared, you will find the food is spicy, rather than hot. We cook this stew for full flavor. We have a lot of spices that bring out the taste and any number of excellent African markets—and large spice and ingredient suppliers—here in Berlin. Also in Hamburg and Holland.”
He adds that fresh ingredients are a feature of African cuisine, “which I think of as naturally organic in that, while not everything these days grows naturally, a lot still does.”
A Little Bit Famous
Not too long ago, Anyangbe notched up second place for Pan African Berlin in a “dine local” satellite TV contest. He came in one point behind the Netherlands, and beat out German, Indian and Italian eateries.
On top of this, in 2017 he was invited to participate in a televised lifestyle magazine series that showcased multicultural dining establishments in Berlin, which is widely regarded as not only the German capital but Germany’s culinary capital. A print book was a by-product of 50 Kitchens, One City: 50 restaurants, countries and recipes in Berlin.
The book is for sale in the restaurant. He fetches a copy and flips to the Pan Africa Berlin page. And there he is, energy and humor radiating from the page; a picture of him cooking up a storm. The recipe he shares is his adaptation of one of his West African favorites: egusi and yam fufu.
Due to these and other TV and media appearances, in combination with his warm ebullient manner, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit, he can say—with what comes across as disarming modesty and humor—“People sometimes recognize me in the street and I realize I am a little bit famous.”
Love, Gospel and Diversity
He won’t deny that he has also been lucky in love. He was still a student, living with his brother, when he met his wife, Friedrun.
“I decided one night to go to a disco-club,” he recalls. He got bored and left after not too long to get a bus home.
On the bus he noticed this girl. They started chatting. She told him she was from Baden-Württemberg in southwest Germany. Like him, she was a student in Berlin.
Not only that, it turned out they were living two doors from each other on the same street.
The rest is history and an ongoing love story.
Their meeting was before Anyangbe decided to turn his long-time fascination with food and cooking into a career.
Growing up in Nigeria, his dad was a mechanical engineer who had studied in France. His mom was a good cook. “She and my sister cooked a lot. I liked to watch them.”
In his early teens, he started to experiment. “When I got home from school and saw ingredients, I would put them together so by the time the family came home, I had something prepared.”
After graduating with his business admin degree, having introduced Friedrun and various friends to the flavors of his childhood and feeling a calling to follow this creative passion, he enrolled at a cooking institute. Post-college, he paid his dues in some of Berlin kitchens, then launched the catering business he still runs along with his first smaller restaurant.
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Going on five years ago he moved to the current Pan Africa Berlin location. Friedrun—a curator at the German History Museum—worked with him on the decor. “The museum gave me that map,” he says, pointing to one of the design features.
“I sat with my wife and we created the wallpaper, using African dress fabric,” he adds. Some of the cloth throws were brought back from South Africa by a neighbor.
Besides his flair with food, he is a gospel singer who has sung with gospel bands and in gospel choirs at traditional African churches as well as “his” Catholic church, where he and his family live and where he volunteers both as a cook and with street children.
He finds Berliners super-friendly. “People talk about problems,” he says, and acknowledges there are issues around racism and migrants. “It’s everywhere—Nigeria too,” he says.
“But here, we are all Germans. We are a community. Wherever you are from, if you are open—if you’re not fearful—if you want to belong, you can belong. If people know you’re open to them, they open to you and welcome you.”
We look forward to having Anyangbe welcome us back.