Malong Pendar's one-time Cameroonian popup turned East Oakland brick-and-mortar restaurant doesn't advertise itself as a vegan eatery — and, in fact, most of the plates he serves up are topped with a scoop of tender stewed chicken meat or some fried tilapia filets. And yet, the fact remains: The foundation for each of A Taste of Africa's wildly popular combination plates consists of five or six vegan side dishes. And, really, who needs meat when the vegetables are as gorgeous and full-flavored as this: well-seasoned jollof rice; toothsome black-eyed peas; gingery, coconut-infused mashed yams; and crisp-edged fried plantains. Best of all is the ndole, the peanut-spinach stew that is Cameroon's national dish — a kind of vegetable slurry that adds a juicy savoriness to everything else on the plate. And Pendar's house-made habanero hot sauce alone serves as a fiery rebuke to anyone who has ever made the mistake of thinking that vegan food is supposed to be bland.
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