The rich, floral smell of grilled lamb, the sweet fragrance of caramelized onions, and the sharp scent of mustard wafts out of the Kabba’s Kitchen cart. Three patio tables invite you to sit down and enjoy the smells while you wait for your food. This is a cart that, ideally, you want to give plenty of time to—for the food to be made to order, to sit down and enjoy while the textures are at their peak crispiness.
For newcomers to Kabba’s like me, the best way to approach it is with a friend so you can try twice as many things. After all, Senegalese and Gambian food aren’t exactly common in Portland’s food scene, so at some point, you’ll want to explore the whole menu.
The dibi—your choice of grilled chicken or lamb with onions in a mustard sauce—is an excellent place to start, with tender, juicy lamb ready to tear from the bone. It makes you wonder why lamb is often paired with mint—the acidic mustard is a natural pairing for the fatty lamb. It comes with crisp fries, which soak up the lamb-onion juices, and a bright, vinegary salad that lightens up the meal.
I’d tried dibi before, but the new dish for me was the niambi ak ndiebe—black-eyed peas with fried cassava and tomato sauce. It’s well worth it to add the fried whole fish for (only!) $7, so extraordinarily crunchy that you can eat the fins and even some of the bones, while the flesh is succulent and juicy. The chewy-crunchy fried cassava soaks up the sweet, oniony tomato sauce, giving it that prized crispy-soggy texture, while the black-eyed peas are wonderfully al dente. It’s an exciting journey through flavor and texture.
Wash it all down with bissap (hibiscus) juice, don’t forget to ask for a side of that vinegary hot sauce, and come back to try another dish.