Join our discovery tour to the best African restaurants in Antwerp, and get to know some of the classics, a couple of hip newcomers and a few places almost no one will know about. Trop Op! went for a taste and saw it was good.
Yes dear friends, it’s about time for a breather. After a long series of travel stories about exotic destinations such as Boom – which got me on VTM News: the pinnacle of quality – the time seemed right to once again dive into the gastronomic delights of Antwerp. I roamed the city streets as if there was no tomorrow, just to highlight another segment of our local world cuisine. This time I decided to look for the best African restaurants in Antwerp. Unfortunately, a small problem immediately arose. Turns out I hardly knew any African restaurants in Antwerp, let alone the best. Maybe this is because I’m so startlingly pale that whenever I set foot anywhere in Africa, the sunlight is reflected to such an extent the local area suddenly becomes a degree or two cooler. That’s nice if the air conditioning just broke down, but it tends to draw a little attention. So, in order to choose the right establishments for my quest, I had to seek professional help. And since I’m an extremely pleasant person, it was available in abundance. Woopwoop!
The 6 best African restaurants in Antwerp
Enter my neighbour Moussa and my friend Esohe. Moussa is not only the best neighbour in the world (he lets me have as many parties as I want), he is also a proud Senegalese man who supplies half of Belgium with bissap. That’s hibiscus tea and Senegal’s national drink, but more on that later. Moussa knows where the good stuff is, and after I invited him to come along, he quickly shared his ultimate list with me.
“This time I decided to look for the best African restaurants in Antwerp. Unfortunately, a small problem immediately arose. Turns out I hardly knew any African restaurants in Antwerp, let alone the best.”
The restaurants he missed were covered by the dazzling Esohe Weyden: an enviable multi-talent who infiltrated the highest circles of the country as a poet. She did this on such a level that King Philip personally attended one of her readings on the national military parade, explicitly organised for the occasion. The poor guy had to sit there and listen. Try and make that happen when you’re 22. Despite all of her success, Esohe is still a good girl who immediately asked her mom about her favourite restaurants. And thus my list was as complete as it was going to get. All I had to do next was book a table everywhere and proceed raiding the kitchen. That sounds easier than it was. I may not know much about African cuisine, but I do know the plates are rarely small. Anyway, enough stalling: here are the best African restaurants in Antwerp. Enjoy!
PS: looking for North African or Middle Eastern restaurants? I already published a post on them. By now it’s gotten pretty dated, so if you have any new tips for me, leave them in the comments below.
1. Tantines: a fresh newcomer in Borgerhout
Tantines on Turnhoutsebaan in Borgerhout is the newest restaurant on the list. It was only opened in September by the young and criminally gorgeous Sadjo, and is a small but hip place where you can dine, but also order takeaway and catering. Sadjo taught herself to cook, and offers her own accessible versions of traditional dishes, without changing the original too much. Dishes such as the above mentioned mafé from Mali and Congolese pondu. Everything you can eat here is halal, there are several vegan options available, and the menu is not limited to African dishes. For example, samosas and curries are also on there. Super nice place that offers both good food and an interesting chat. Be sure to go and check it out. www.instagram.com/tantines_/
2. Farafina: an established name from Mali
Farafina – to be found in Kerkstraat between Antwerp and Borgerhout – is probably the most well known African restaurant in this list. It’s been open for almost ten years now and pretty popular, also among the more famous locals. The whole Antwerp football team had dinner here, and Belgian international Moussa Dembele even manned the kitchen for a minute. The main reason for this popularity is Asta: the Malian owner everyone calls Mama Farafina. She’s a cheerful lady and her kitchen produces quality food. The dishes are mostly Malian, but are complemented with some food from neighbouring Senegal and Ivory Coast. Portions are almost overwhelmingly large. I ordered Malian mafé (tender beef in peanut sauce) and the house specialty: fried rice à la Farafina with grilled chicken. This all tasted great, but turned out to be so much food I had to ask for a doggy bag. www.facebook.com/farafinaresto21
3. Msemen: Moroccan pancakes in Antwerp
Msemen is a beautiful place between the hipster shops of the Hoogstraat. Traditional Moroccan pancakes are sold here. They’re not filled with syrup or brown sugar like the Belgian ones, but with a whole bunch of other things of your choice. My favorite combo is a mix of spicy olives, honey and goat cheese. Particularly hungry? Order some brewats or harira soup – you only live once. Perfect spot for a quick lunch. However, since the owner is an interesting and talkative man who likes to philosophize about all kinds of random topics, sticking around is always an option. If you actually have something interesting to say, you might even get a cup of free mint tea to go with it. www.msemen.be
4. Liberian Center: eating for a good cause
The Liberian Center is a restaurant hidden behind De Coninck square, and is probably completely unknown to anyone without African roots who happens not to live nearby. The prices here are democratic, the portions huge and the dishes as traditional as you will find them in Antwerp. The place is run by Kpana, a very friendly woman who treats you as if you were going for dinner at your favorite aunt’s. For twelve euro per main course you can choose everything from well-seasoned fried chicken to beef stew with stirred rice and plantain. Those are cooking bananas by the way, and they’re ridiculously tasty. This is the perfect place for those who want an copious and tasty dinner, without it having to be too fancy. Part of the proceeds go to projects supporting Liberian women and children. So if you eat yourself to the point of indigestion here, you don’t even have to feel bad about it. Which is of course, nice.
The Liberian Center does not have a website, but the address is Muizenstraat 23, 2060 Antwerp.
5. Sunu Restaurant & Market: Senegalese dishes and ingredients
A comparable business located very nearby but mostly concentrated on Senegalese cuisine, is Sunu Restaurant in Dambruggestraat: a cosy little place opened a year and a half ago in full corona crisis mode. The kitchen is led by Gnilane Sambe, who complements her Senegalese dishes with some favourites from neighbouring countries as well. I chose dibi: a plate full of well-seasoned goat meat, with some plantain on the side (always pick plantain). This made me very happy. Do you prefer cooking in your own kitchen? Visit Sunu Market down the road: one of the main places in Antwerp to buy African ingredients and products from different countries. www.facebook.com/sunurestaurant
6. Elsie’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Restaurant: East African dishes in Antwerp’s South district
*Not my pictures, will change when possible
For the last restaurant in our list, we’re off to the other side of Africa (in comparison: Senegal is further away from Eritrea than Portugal is from Ukraine) where you’ll find a completely different cuisine in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Elsie’s is found in the city’s south side and is led by Elsa: a woman who moved from Eritrea to Holland with her mother years ago. The restaurant she has now was opened in honour of her mom, who taught her how to cook. You can try separate dishes here, but you can also order a large plate to share. This allows you to combine a lot of flavours and try out large portions of the menu at once. There are vegan options available, and the sharing dishes are eaten with a hearty pancake to grab your food with, instead of cutlery. www.ethiopisch-restaurant.be
7. Moussa’s Bissap: a whiff of Senegal in your glass
My neighbour Moussa doesn’t have a restaurant, but his bissap is sold in several businesses on this list (and many, many others). I still remember how he, after I moved into the apartment below his, made a couple of hundred litres of the stuff in his living room on a weekly basis and drove it all around himself. Times have changed since those days. He now sells several flavours in Belgium, Holland, Germany and France, he has his own brewery and even hibiscus fields in Senegal. His stuff is self-made and straight from the source. Bissap is a sweet and refreshing beverage you can drink cold as well as warm – preferably with some fresh mint leaves in the glass. You can also make nice cocktails with it, but don’t tell Moussa. www.bis-sap.com
There, those were the best African restaurants in Antwerp as far as I’m concerned. Did I forget your favourite? Do you have other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below (as well as your suggestions for my article on Middle-Eastern restaurants).
Want to discover some of the other gastronomic delights of Antwerp? Read my posts on the best Italian, Latin-American, Vegan, Asian and burger restaurants. Feeling like cocktails? Click here. Coffee? Also possible!