Sometimes, eating out reminds me that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. A few weeks ago, my boyfriend suggested we try Genery, a Sudanese restaurant on Jackson Avenue, just east of Trezevant. The exterior is nondescript except for a sign advertising burgers, wings, and African food, which is slightly deceptive. So is the menu.
The key to success at Genery is to ask the waiter for the "real deal," as in the really authentic food. Our waiter finally realized that we didn't want a gyro and headed back to the kitchen to place the order.
While we waited, we drank hot tea. We had three options: white, green, and a milky, sweet chai-like version. Our food arrived still sizzling: a chicken stir-fry dish with peppers and tomatoes and a massive platter of subtly scented rice, hummus, and fresh, ripe bananas. It was divine. We vowed to return.
We did a week later and brought a friend with us. He had already discovered Gereny and become something of a regular.
This time, I tried the goat meat, which was very tender, while the guys tried the salmon, slow cooked with lemons and chili peppers. All the dishes came with rice, salad, and a spicy chili pepper relish. I dug my fork in to try a large bite and was rewarded with instantly cleared sinuses and lungs.
"Go easy on the relish," I managed to choke out, in between chugs of fresh, sweet mango juice. Luckily, our waiter had brought us an entire pitcher.
After we were all too full to move, we sat and finished the dregs of our tea. At the table across from us, a group of men were eating from a large communal platter, the traditional way to eat East African cuisine. Our friend asked our waiter what the men were eating.
He told us it was an egg dish, commonly eaten for breakfast.
"Can we taste it?" our friend asked. As full as I was, I decided to try a bite when it arrived at our table. I pulled off a chunk of the crusty white bread and scooped up a bite of what looked like scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions. Within minutes, we had polished off the whole plate. It was that good. I tried to ask our waiter what it was called, but between his accent and new customers, I wasn't able to get a clear answer.
When I got home, I did a quick Google search on East African food. And that's when things got tricky.
The more I researched African cooking, the more overwhelmed I became. In the same way a New York pizza is very different from a Chicago pizza, African cuisine varies widely, depending on which region of the continent you happen to be in. Even within individual countries, dishes can differ depending on the area and the available ingredients.
Part of the difficulty in defining African cuisine by country or region is because during the "Scramble for Africa," between the 1880s and 1914, European settlers defined colonial borders without regard to pre-existing territories or cultural differences among tribes.
This made perfect sense to me, especially because it seems that Gereny has influences from several different countries in Africa, not just Sudan.
Studying African cuisine is a lesson in occupation. Starting with the Arabs more than 1,000 years ago, various cultures have invaded the continent, bringing with them spices, plants, and cooking techniques that are now a part of the cuisine.
The Arabs brought steamed rice and spices like saffron, cloves, and cinnamon. Portuguese explorers introduced roasting and marinating techniques and oranges, lemons, and limes from Asian colonies. Later, they introduced New World items like chilies, peppers, maize, tomatoes, pineapple, and bananas (most of which are very much a part of the cuisine at Gereny). The British and Indians introduced vegetable curries, lentil soup, and chapattis.
One thing is definitely clear about Gereny: The food has a very strong Middle Eastern influence.
Items such as hummus and gyros are menu staples, but don't go to Gereny to have a chicken gyro. Go for something totally different, like the goat meat (kind of like lamb but not) or the Kingfish (salmon smothered in grilled lemons and a red spicy sauce).
It might be difficult to pin down exactly what type of cuisine Gereny serves, but one thing is certain: It's tasty. Go get some before word gets out about this delicious hole-in-the-wall.
The menu prices range from $10 to 12 for an entrée, but keep in mind that includes tea, any beverages (like the super-tasty mango juice we tried on our last visit), extras like hummus, and tax.
2356 Jackson (458-6330)