Connoisseurs of Western cuisine tend to find African recipes challenging: African cooking is often made of vegetables that you’ve never heard of, spicy aromas that you never thought possible, and meat that is either too tough, too soft, or not meat at all — many recipes just have cooked skin, bones and gristle. Sometimes, they are foods that frustrate your attempts to pick a utensil that works — unfamiliar starches and unconventional textures can make life hard for anyone who expects food to look and feel a certain way.
Yet, African cooking isn’t necessarily an acquired taste. Even if you’ve never tried anything from Africa before, you’re likely to be immediately hooked. There’s something extremely natural and exciting about food from the continent. You will need a certain amount of guidance making your way through any African menu, though — a great restaurant with friendly, well-informed staff is an essential. If this is your expectation, you could scarcely do better than Kilimandjaro, one of the best Senegalese dining experiences in Philadelphia.
Every item on the list at Kilimanjaro does clearly clue you in to the ingredients — Chicken Senegal, Yassa Chicken and Grilled Tilapia, for instance, are clear enough. You’ll have a hard time knowing on your own what goes into Chicken Senegal other than the chicken, though. The descriptions on the menu offer nothing but the barest clues; this item, for instance, is described as chicken dressed in “Senegalese sauce.” The waitresses, though, offer great advice, descriptions and recommendations, helping you find the items that work for your specific tastes.
If you like spicy food, for instance, your waitress will have a quantity of Senegalese hot sauce placed at your table. It’s tangy and exotic in an irresistible way, and you’ll find yourself slathering it on every item you order. The entrees themselves are wonderfully traditional, and often appear homemade, rather than prepared by a commercial chef. Whether it is the meat itself or the bed of rice, onions, plantains and peppers that it sits on, everything tends to be cooked to perfection, and presented in a pleasing way without being pretentious.
Kilimandjaro is one of the homiest restaurants that you’re likely to have ever been to. It isn’t just the food that makes you feel like a guest in someone’s home; the hosts and waitresses seem to genuinely care that you have a great time. The décor is modest and is traditional Senegalese; the television that’s on most of the time runs a loop of music videos from the country and makes the place seem like someone’s living room.
If you do have 90 minutes to enjoy a meal, Kilimandjaro’s can’t be beat, and the prices are some of the cheapest that you’ll ever pay. Relax and enjoy the value of your experience.
Kilimandjaro (4317 Chestnut Street, 215-387-1970)
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