"I give you a little penis for free."
Taking advantage of a beautiful crisp day in Chicago, I decided to take a walk from my North Mich office to lunch favorite Kababish on Orleans for tilapia Pakistani style on chapatis. Making the turn onto Clark from Chicago Avenue, it was apparent that a change of plans was in order. The TBS African lunch truck was pulled to the side doing brisk drive-up business with the cabbies.
Having never eaten at either of their two locations (one at North Sheridan and the other on South Commercial), or really had much in the way of African food at all, I began to play the "What's That?" game with the proprietor and a couple of genial Nigerians hanging out with him. Disappointingly, he had just run out of mashed yams and plantains, so my choices for sides consisted of spinach. Of the meat offerings, all were bathed in the same spicy tomato based sauce, and they consisted of chunks of whiting, tilapia (heads only), chicken, beef skin, tripe, and some kind of beef joint I couldn't get a clear ruling on. Feeling increasingly confident of my powers of identification in the "What's That?" game, I pointed to one item and tentatively asked, "sausage?"
You can guess how the rest of that exchange went. After much sophomoric trans-national locker room tittering, my new Nigerian friends and I got down to the serious business of constructing my lunch. Out was the chicken ("eets hard cheekin, not soft." "You mean tough chicken?" "Yes...tough cheekin.") and the tilapia heads ("Come back when I have whole ting!").
So, my foam container was lined with a gorgeous white rice (why do Americans seem to be the only people unable to cook rice properly?) and then the equivalent of a Nigerian Sampler Platter. After placing everything atop the rice, we returned to the small matter of the penis. He gamely stabbed at one with his serving spoon, pronouncing the cut as his favorite ("no fat...good for you!). I was about to pass on it when he pointed to a smallish specimen and made me the offer I couldn't refuse (see top).
Back in the office, where I did a quick Chowhound background check to make sure I didn't just fall for the African version of "Punked", I dove right in.
The rice was first...as good as advertised, particularly when the spicy red sauce was incorporated into it. The spinach was extremely good, seasoned with some kind of dried smoked fish flavoring...almost like Japanese bonito flakes. The fish was next, also very good--firm and steak-like, then the beef joint. It was clear it had spent the longest time in the stew. It was dry, yet tender at the same time--almost jerky-like in consistency and exploding with dark rich beef flavor. The tripe was tripe...never really been a fan, but it was tenderer than most. The skin was flabby and fatty...not good. Then, with knuckles white against my plastic fork and knife, I sliced and speared a chunk of bullhood and popped it in. I swallowed, and had another bite, but it was clear that my penis eating days were behind me. It tasted like the skin, not bad flavor really...almost veal-like, but the consistency was gummy and unpleasantly toothsome.
All in all, a fine and unexpected lunch. The lunch truck brigade by my office in Streeterville has been disappointing of late--no African, and Island Delight barely comes anymore, so it was great to find a new one not too far away. The driver assured me he was a regular at the Clark Street location at lunch time, so I would encourage North Loop lunchers to seek him out.
I've included the addresses of their restaurant locations from memory, so I may be off by a block or two.
TBS Nigerian Restaurant
4507 N. Sheridan
8910 S. Commercial