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New Restaurant Nneji Brings West African Cuisine To Astoria

Patch logo Patch 9/4/2020 Maya Kaufman
a sign above a store in a brick building: Nneji offers a menu of West African soups and stews and southeast Nigerian specialties. © Courtesy of Nneji Nneji offers a menu of West African soups and stews and southeast Nigerian specialties.

ASTORIA, QUEENS — Beatrice Ajaero is on a quest to make her family's West African culinary traditions into mainstream comfort food, and she's starting in Astoria.

Ajaero's new restaurant, Nneji, offers a menu of West African soups and stews and southeast Nigerian specialties like Edikang Ikong, which combines dried cod with cow skin and cow foot and leafy greens, from a colorful storefront on 34th Avenue.

“Nneji is inspired by my family’s culinary traditions and my mission stemming out of my Bard MBA Sustainability Program Capstone project to make the highly nutritious and delicious food of West Africa more familiar and widely available,” Ajaero said.

Ajaero, whose family is Nigerian, said she felt her restaurant would be at home in Astoria, a neighborhood known and beloved for its diverse food scene.

In a show of solidarity with those neighbors, Nneji also sells breads and pastries from the bakery Rose & Joe's, as well as Grecian baklava, in a nod to Astoria's Greek community.

The business also gets a hand from Anup Joshi, a former "Chopped" winner, who helps prep the soups and stews.

But Nneji is ultimately a family affair. Ajaero's three siblings, who all attended Astoria Lutheran School, contribute strategy, customer experience and branding ideas. They were the ones who suggested Astoria as the home of Ajaero's restaurant.

"They showed me that Astoria is home to many food businesses such as stores, restaurants, bakeries whose owners are dedicated to sharing their heritage," Ajaero said. "This, combined with the similarities between Mediterranean and African cuisines, gave me faith that Nneji would be at home in Astoria.”

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