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Bring International Cuisine and Durham Flavor to Your Kitchen

Estimated Read Time:
5 minutes

Take some culinary cues from Durham's cultural creators. One thing is for certain: Durham is never lacking in flavor.

Posted By Ashley Strahm on May 15, 2020

We’re where the only Zimbabwean restaurant in the country has been tirelessly serving its community for nearly two years now; where food trucks turned dreams on wheels into dope brick and mortars, and where family ventures have turned into brilliant community staples.

At a time where we’re potentially a bit further from the flavors we know and love than we’d like to be, we reached out to some of the spiciest, most savory partners we know to see what ingredients they can’t live without, and which recipes they’re excited to share with home chefs near and wide.



This food truck turned brick and mortar established their second location here in Durham at 104 City Hall Plaza. Their delicious Puerto Rican menu includes empanadas, mofongo, and crazy good Cuban sandwiches. Here Kokí owner and executive chef Doel Gonzalez told us what ingredient he can’t live without in their fridge or pantry.

“Funny enough, canned corned beef! Arroz con corned beef is a go-to inexpensive meal to make, with white rice and corned beef braised in sofrito (cilantro, onion, coriander, garlic, sweet ají peppers), tomato sauce, and seasonings, while throwing in chopped fried potatoes or sweet plantains. This is a simple meal that is fast, extremely filling and is truly a comfort food we've grown up with our entire lives.”

So, what’s the cooking tip Doel wants Durhamites to embrace while cooking at home? The simplest one: making cheese empanadas. “We're the type to snack on empanadas, and we always keep empanada shells on hand. We take any cheese of choice (lately we've been going with a cheddar and pepper jack mix), stuff it into the dough, fold it and use a fork to seal the edges. A quick fry in a pan with about an inch of oil until golden brown on each side means that a few minutes later, we're enjoying a snack that just begs us to eat many more! The fun part is that we can just keep making them as many times as we want, and it's better than eating chips and dip any time of day!”

[Follow Kokí to find more flavor.]


“Flip” Filippini, owner of the KoKyu BBQ food truck, opened the Kokyu Na’Mean near Research Triangle Park in Durham, with a second location near Southpoint. Filippini became a quick favorite since taking to the streets in 2010 to serve mouthwatering global street food (we're talking short rib quesadillas and duck fat tots, here, folks). His diverse offerings have yielded an expansion of his mobile fleet, too, meaning the addition of a second truck, called KoKyu Ondo, to produce new offerings like a Cheerwine & swine slider, featuring seared pork belly, Cackalacky Cheerwine sauce and Korean pear slaw. He had a lot to say about what’s keeping his mouth watering while social distancing.

“[I can’t live without] garlic, really, really good butter and olive oil. There is no question that on these items there should be no skimping. While it can be expensive for great cultured butter and excellent olive oil, we use so much that we purchase in bulk, we always have several gallons (yeah) of olive oil on hand, from Spain, Italy and sometimes California.”

His tips? Always buy olive oil that has a harvest date, and be as close to that as you can get. Kokyu imports Olio Nuovo from Italy every year and shares it with friends and family. If you find an excellent producer, you can get the cost down and the quality high by buying in bulk and shipping it. Last year, Flip’s shipment got mixed up with an air conditioner part being sent to St. Louis from Tuscany: “I don't know how that happened but a man called from a small HVAC company in St. Louis, and he was like ‘what is this stuff’ and ‘why is it green’? We let him keep half the case and returned his HVAC parts ... I think it changed his life.”

Since Flip lives in South Durham he and his family eats Na'Mean or KoKyu at least 3-4 times a week. He says they always keep some KoKyu Chili Sauce on hand, and can set you up with a bottle if you'd like: it’s a great flavor enhancer, not only for Asian cuisines. Part of the motivation/inspiration for the Kokyu restaurants is to "cook food we like to eat, and hopefully others will like to too," Flip says. “Basically, the restaurant kitchens are extensions of our home kitchen.”

To add great heat and flavor to sautéed dishes/sauces/soups etc., Flip adds some KoKyu Chili Sauce and fries it hard (sometimes with garlic, ginger and/or scallions and other aromatics) to release the flavor into the oil before continuing with the recipe. The intensity is spread out throughout the dish rather than just added on top. The chilis really open up and become more flavorful and robust.

[Follow KoKyu to find more flavor.]


Indian cuisine often came with a side of live music on Friday and Saturday nights at Sitar, but for now it's takeout only; both gluten-free and vegan dishes are now available for takeout, too. If you’re in the mood to cultivate your own savory dish at home, the following is a classic dish you can make happen in your own kitchen.

Grilled Tandoori Chicken


  • 12 pcs of tandoori chicken (leg and breast slightly slit). (Pro tip: cut a whole chicken into individual pieces.)
  • 1 tbsp Kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves (optional)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp coriander powder
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika powder
  • 4 oz garlic ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • A few drops of red edible food color
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • sliced onion and lemon and chopped cilantro for a garnish

To prepare:

Cut the chicken pieces and slightly slit the meat so that the masalas can marinate well. Add all the ingredients and keep in Zip Loc bags in the refrigerator overnight for the best flavor. Cook over a grill on medium heat. After the chicken is cooked, garnish with lemon onions and coriander. Pro tip: squeeze on some extra lemon for some additional tangy flavor.

[Follow Sitar to find more flavor.]


    Before moving to a permanent space at the American Tobacco Campus this summer, Boricua Soul existed in “The Soul Patrol,” a 1999 Freightliner MT55 Tool Truck that powered ‘Southern soul, Caribbean flair and Euro-African' cuisine. We're so glad it does, because that's exactly what Boriqua Soul gives: food for the soul. Husband and wife team Toriano and Serena Fredericks have been melding their Puerto Rican and African American heritage into delightful bites for locals everywhere, especially now for takeout.

    At home, they can’t go without bacon — Toriano says he always seem to have some or another pork product in most meals, whether its bacon with breakfast, on a BLT for lunch or on top of a burger for dinner.

    He also says that the menu on the food truck and restaurant is highly influenced by the way he and his wife were already cooking at home, as well as celebratory foods centered around Puerto Rican and Southern cuisine. “One way we regularly blend ingredients used in the restaurant with how we cook at home is using the seasoning we use to season Pernil (Slow roasted Puerto Rican-style pork) to season our hamburgers at home. We call it Slappin Soul Seasoning, and we mix it right into the ground beef for a perfectly seasoned patty.”

    Get ready, y’all.

    Boricua Soul Burger

    All you’ll need is one pound of ground beef and one tablespoon of Slappin Soul Seasoning (you can up this amount if you prefer a little more flavor) to make this mouth-watering burger.

    • Mix (Boricua Soul) Slappin Soul Seasoning into ground beef. Be sure to mix well to unsure season is not clumped in one part of the meat.
    • Divide meat into 4 separate balls and make into patties.
    • Grill over Medium-High heat for 3-4 minutes per side.
    • Place on bun and add your favorite toppings.

      Looking for that seasoning blend to make dinner fabulous?

      Get some of that Slappin Soul Seasoning online here.

      [Follow Boricua to find more flavor.]


        Fasil from Goorsha is intent on serving traditional Ethiopian fair with a modern twist. Although you can find tibs, shiro, and plenty of injera on their takeout menu, you can make stew to last the week by following these delicious recipes.

        Yemisir Kik (Lentil Stew)

        • 1 cup of cooking oil
        • 1 large diced onion
        • 3 tablespoons of Goorsha’s berbere spice
        • 2 teaspoons of minced garlic
        • 1/2 tablespoon of fresh minced ginger
        • 1 cup of red lentils
        • 2 cups of water
        • 1/2 tablespoon of salt to taste
        1. Heat up large sauce-pan with oil, then add onions. Stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes until the onion has caramelized. Add berbere spice, garlic, ginger, stir occasionally for about 2-3 minutes until onions is translucent.
        2. Then add water and salt, and bring to boil.
        3. Add the red lentils and let it simmer until sauce thickens, allow it to boil 20-25 minutes until the lentils soften.
        4. Serve on Injera with fresh salad.

        Awaze Tibs (Beef Stew)

        • 1/2 lb of tenderloin meat chopped to bite size• 1/2 chopped fresh red onion• 1 teaspoon of salt
        • 1/2 teaspoon of pepper
        • 1 fresh jalapeño chopped (with or without seeds)
        • 4 cloves of chopped garlic
        • 1/2 fresh tomato chopped into eight pieces
        • 2 tablespoon avocado or grapeseed oil
        • 1 tablespoon of Goorsha Awaze sauce
        • 1 teaspoon of Goorsha spiced butter
        • Nonstick pan
        1. Season your beef with salt and pepper.
        2. Heat up your pan on high heat until it starts smoking.
        3. Drizzle about two tablespoons of oil and let it heat up.
        4. Throw in your tenderloin and onion keep stirring continuously for three minutes.
        5. Then add the jalapenos and the garlic together and sauté for one minute.
        6. Add the chopped tomatoes and turn off the heat.
        7. Add butter and awaze stir to mix evenly
        8. Serve with fresh Injera or bread.

        [Follow Goorsha to find more flavor.]


        The only Zimbabwean restaurant in the United States is here, in Durham. Owners Leo and Zweli have been a staple in the Durham community; offering meals to community members suffering hardship, and sharing their culinary talents with Durhamites – many for the first time. Apparently, garlic is the non-negotiable staple in their pantry. “This is one of my basic necessities to any meal," chef Zweli says. "It's one of the most potent flavor enhancers, period. I must have it!”

        Today, Zweli is enjoying what she says is the vulnerability to try new things outside of the restaurant. "At Zweli's, I've established my recipes to be quite systematic because I've trained my staff to follow very precise instructions when cooking my cultural cuisine. When home, I'm vulnerable; experimenting the unknown and following the journey in which flavor collaborations take me. If I was to offer a technique — and this is truly experimental — I suggest trying to cook a particular item in multiple ways. For example: fried rice, stove-top boiled rice, braised rice, baked rice, etc. See how it goes with different proteins. You'll be shocked at the diversity something as simple as rice has.” If you're interesting in bringing the flavor even closer to your kitchen, join Zweli's for a virtual cooking class this month!

        [Follow Zweli’s for more flavor.]


        More than a year after it closed due to a gas leak and subsequent explosion, longtime Durham staple Torero’s has reopened, even amidst a pandemic. They’re offering their food to go, with curbside pickup. We’re thrilled for them and celebrate their resilience.

        Co-owners Jose Arias, Emmanuel Martinez and Francisco Equihua are excited to serve customers again in Durham’s Brightleaf Historic District — they reopened for takeout just ahead of Cinco de Mayo this year, and they’ve got tips to share.

        "Salt is important for any kitchen worldwide; without that number one ingredient I wouldn’t be able to prepare hardly any dish, chef Francisco Equihua says. “Always use the ingredients in the recipes but always put your own touch for taste. Frijoles Charros is one of my favorites.” Per the old family recipe:

        • 4 slices of bacon 🥓, each strip cut in eighths
        • 1 large chopped onion
        • 2 cloves minced garlic
        • 2 cups dry pinto beans (washed)
        • 8 cups water
        • 3 mild, long green chiles, roasted, peeled, cleaned and cut into strips (1/4-inch wide and 2 inches long)
        • 3 tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
        • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

        1. In a large soup pot, cook the bacon until crisp. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is soft.

        2. Add uncooked beans and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer just until the skin begins to split on the beans, about 2 1/4 hours.

        3. Add chiles, tomato and salt. Continue cooking until the beans are very tender and fully cooked, about 30 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve. (Serves 10)

        [Follow Toreros to find more flavor.]

        From coast to coast and continent to continent, it feels like we've got the whole world here in Durham.

        About the Author

        Ashley Strahm

        Jersey roots, Durham fruits. Lover of all things edible, egalitarian and true. Find me clad in Birkenstocks, seeking Bull City Beautiful stories by trail, wheel and spoke.