• Serving up an authentic taste of Nigeria (Little lagos)Source: Little lagos
You'll find fried plantains, Nigerian doughnuts and jollof rice at Little Lagos, Adetokunboh Adeniyi's popular pop-up.
Lucy Rennick

26 Sep 2019 - 11:45 AM  UPDATED 3 Oct 2019 - 12:59 PM

“When I arrived in Sydney in 2016, the first thing I wanted to do was find Nigerian food,” says Adetokunboh Adeniyi, about his search for the cuisine of his birthplace. “I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was literally depressed about it.”

Luckily (for anyone on the eternal quest for the perfect bowl of jollof rice, and for anyone looking to try new things), he didn’t wallow. He set himself a personal mission to fill the gaping hole in Sydney’s culinary landscape with Nigerian food and culture – and, with his stall-turned-pop-up-restaurant Little Lagos, he’s succeeding.

Where there was once very little in the way of Nigerian food in the inner west (read: none), there's now a fortnightly cultural and cooking hub operating out of beloved Newtown bar Earl’s Juke Joint (which, coincidentally, looks exactly like the Nigerian city of Lagos in the '70s, according to Adeniyi).

Little Lagos’ heady stews, crunchy fried plantains and freshly baked Nigerian meat pies (which are almost like an empañada) are a welcome addition to Newtown’s already thriving food scene, but Adeniyi isn’t trying to dazzle anyone – he just wants Australians to understand what Nigerian food really is. “I’m sticking closely to the classics,” he explains. “I’m very much into authenticity, I think it should taste the way it should taste if you flew to Lagos right now and ate the same food.”  

The menu leans heavily on vegan and vegetarian dishes, with jollof rice, an everything-but-the-sink style dish (made with tomatoes, onions,  capsicum, habanero chillies, and optional meat) being an obvious crowd favourite. There’s also growing interest in Little Lagos’ puff-puffs, deep-fried dough balls that resemble doughnuts.

“Puff-puffs may have just overtaken jollof rice as the most popular item,” Adeniyi says. The goat stew and black-eyed beans are other sell-out offerings.

“When I arrived in Sydney in 2016, the first thing I wanted to do was find Nigerian food. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was literally depressed about it.”

“The amazing thing about Nigerian food and West African food generally is that one food item can be cooked five different ways, minimum,” says Adeniyi. “Take plantains – plantains, you can fry them, you can bake them, you can boil them. You can make a pudding out of them, so you mash them, they’re soft, and put them together with beans and palm oil. For us right now, without a permanent kitchen, we’re going for the easiest, fastest things to make that people are going to really enjoy.”

Because it's a pop-up, Little Lagos is still something of an experiment. “What we’re doing is testing the market and seeing what the interest is like before opening up a full place,” Adeniyi explains. And it’s delivering undeniably positive results so far. Engagement on Little Lagos’ Instagram page is at an all-time high, and the all-African team in the kitchen are struggling to keep up with demand every fortnight.

“I’m very much into authenticity, I think it should taste the way it should taste if you flew to Lagos right now and ate the same food.” 

“The challenge with a pop-up restaurant is always resupplying,” Adeniyi says. “You can predict and prep your kitchen for 60-80 people, but what happened last Sunday was one woman … ended up buying about 15 boxes – so your whole plan goes out the window. That’s more you’ve predicted for one person and you can’t say no. Another gentleman also bought about eight boxes. It’s great for business, but not so great for everyone who misses out!”

It makes sense that Little Lagos is a certified hit, not only amongst Nigerians and other West Africans hungry for a taste of home but with non-African communities, too. Adeniyi tells SBS that even two years after starting his business, Little Lagos is still the only restaurant, pop-up or otherwise, solely dedicated to serving Nigerian dishes in Sydney. While Nigerian food is a bit more of a thing down in Melbourne, the closest Sydney has might be El–Shaddai African Cuisine in Guildford. 

And then there’s the spot Adeniyi has chosen to call home. “I think Newtown is the best suburb in Sydney,” Adeniyi says. “It’s very accepting and accommodating. It’s known for food and there’s high foot-traffic. There are cool bars, cool restaurants – it’s where we belong.” When Adeniyi and his team do eventually open a permanent home, you know where it’ll be.

Prior to teaming up with Earl’s Juke Joint, Little Lagos was a regular stall at food festivals and African cultural events such as Africultures Festival and Bankstown Bites Food Festival, which, if Adeniyi has his way, Sydney will start seeing more of as time passes. He's even popping up in Melbourne in October.

“Food is the first step for what we’re trying to do,” he says. “Little Lagos is a gateway into African lifestyle and culture. It’s about showing Australia as much from the African continent as we can. I’m confident Sydney is ready for a Nigerian restaurant and for Nigerian culture. Italian food is accepted all over the world, along with Chinese and Thai. There’s no reason why Nigerian food shouldn’t be up there.”

Little Lagos' next fortnightly pop-up at Earl’s Juke Joint takes place this Sunday, 29 September, from 5pm. Little Lagos will also be at 1Dance Africa at Sydney's Hordern Pavilion on 11 October and Melbourne's Festival Hall on October 12. Adeniyi plans to open a permanent Little Lagos restaurant at the end of the year. To keep updated on where Little Lagos will show up next, follow the pop-up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

More Nigerian flavours
Beef and peanut satays with cabbage salad (suya)

This is a simplified version of the Nigerian street food. The original uses a powder made from roasted, ground peanuts that have had excess oil extracted, along with a slew of spices. The combination can vary dramatically, and some spices, such as the Sichuan pepper-like uda, are nigh on impossible to find outside of West Africa. Prawns and chicken are common alternatives to red meat, while sides include roasted plantains and cabbage salad. If you want to cram more meat onto your skewer, no worries – thicker kebabs will just take a bit longer to cook.

Nigerian meat pies

A flaky hand-pie for picnics or parties. 

Rich beef and vegetable stew (efo riro)

Efo Riro is a rich vegetable soup that is native to the Yorubas of Western Nigeria. 

Nigerian fried rice
Goat and spinach stew (Nigerian)