FARGO — A native Nigerian, Olaide Adebayo couldn't help but notice her new city had a major gap when it came to food from her home country.
Adebayo moved to Fargo by way of Chattanooga, Tenn., after growing up in Nigeria. She and her mother, Comfort, are the cooks behind Ade's Cuisine, which serves up authentic Nigerian meals out of the Square One Kitchen near downtown Fargo.
Upon arriving in Fargo, Olaide struggled to find a place which served the Nigerian meals on which she was raised. "I moved to Fargo and there weren't any restaurants here that served Nigerian food that I was used to eating back home," she recalled to The Forum. "There were some that were kind of African cuisine, but there are differences and different countries across Africa."
It inspired her to bring the tastes of Nigeria to Fargo, starting her business two years ago selling to-go trays. Olaide and Comfort have grown the business since then, now offering pre-orders on Tuesdays and Saturdays out of the kitchen.
'It's just absolutely amazing'
Ade's Cuisine features a menu flush with authentic Nigerian specialties, Adebayo explained.
For the uninitiated, Adebayo recommends her rice dishes, either jollof rice or Nigerian fried rice.
Jollof rice, which Adebayo said is her personal favorite, is steamed with tomatoes and a pepper sauce. "It sounds very simple, but it’s really, really delicious," she remarked. "You find that at every single Nigerian or African restaurant you go to, you’ll find a version of that."
Ade's brown melon soup is a popular item among Fargo's Nigerian and Liberian residents. The soup features ground melon seeds, which are dried and fried, then served along with kale, spinach, tomato and pepper sauce.
Another fixture of Ade's menu are flaky meat pies, which are filled with potatoes, carrots and either beef, chicken or a seafood mix. The duo also offers a vegetarian version.
Additionally, Comfort whips up her own take on grilled chicken wings, using her own spice mix.
For a sweet treat, Adebayo pointed to her puff balls, which she explained are similar to doughnut holes but with a different texture and served with powdered sugar or chocolate or caramel sauce.
While dishes like her brown melon soup may seem scary to the mild Midwestern palate, Adebayo said they boil down to simple, common ingredients. "Most of the meals might sound intimidating at first, but once you get down to it, they're ingredients that most of us use to cook already," she noted. "It just has a twist of Nigerian ingredients in it."
The recipes and techniques Ade's Cuisine put to work have been passed down generations, from Comfort's mother and mother-in-law down to Olaide. It's why Comfort's steady hand in the kitchen has been critical for Olaide to bring genuine Nigerian meals to the table. "She helps with the cooking because obviously she has more experience. She used to run her own food place back in Nigeria before she retired and moved over here," Olaide said. "She's helping me with most of the really traditional food just to make it more authentic."
Overall, Ade's menu "tastes like nothing you've ever had before," Olaide said. "The ingredients sound like they might not come together well, but once we put everything together it's just absolutely amazing," she continued.
Cooking for everyone
Olaide has her eyes set on even more for her enterprise. "Now we are wanting to go bigger, hopefully trying to get our own building and open a restaurant," she said.
Adebayo has been scouting out possible locations across the Fargo-Moorhead area and has been in talks with landlords to draft lease terms. "We've looked at a few places," she said. "It's kind of difficult to find a place that's already fitted for a restaurant, so most places it'll have to start from the ground up."
Opening the restaurant would be a game-changer, Adebayo said, because it would allow customers to order individual meals on the spot rather than large quantities in advance. She also plans to offer a try-me platter once she opens her own restaurant so newcomers to Nigerian food can sample several items.
Olaide and Comfort briefly dabbled with DoorDash to offer more convenience for customers but quickly found it to be cumbersome. "We tried out doing DoorDash and it was a success. It was just kind of stressful because the kitchen that we cook at is really far away from us," she explained. "It was a lot of moving food, ingredients and utensils back and forth just to be open for a few hours two days a week."
In the meantime, look for Ade's Cuisine at the Red River Market, which Adebayo hopes will be an opportunity to introduce her food to new people. "We're trying to introduce our food to everyone, not just Nigerians or Africans," she said. "We want everyone to be able to try our food."
To their credit, Adebayo said diners in the Fargo-Moorhead area have always been willing to try new things. "The people here are so ready to try new things and foreign things," she remarked. "If the food is good and the price isn't too high, they're going to try it. That's just one of the things I love about here."