If you’re eager to explore East African food, and in particular Ugandan home cooking, chef Jalia Walusimbi wants you to come over.
In the kitchen of her Van Nuys home, Walusimbi cooks 10 hours a day, every day, for a steady procession of Ugandan expats who gather to eat and chat alongside other customers who learned about her place through word-of-mouth or social media.
“I never get a break,” Walusimbi says. “But I do really like to cook.”
You’ll park on the street or behind the single-story, adobe-roofed house. Pass the canopy-covered tables on the backyard patio. Then walk straight through the back door to be seated in the family dining room.
Recipes might pull from Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda. But more often than not, the focus is on Ugandan cuisine, which has notable influences from India, England and the Middle East. Dishes rotate each day at Jaliz, which has become an informal hub for local Ugandans.
“They say, ‘We’ve come back home,” Walusimbi said proudly. “They say, ‘We are home.’ It feels very good. I love to hear that.”
If you’re a first-timer, you’ll be offered an introductory feast that gives you a little taste of everything. There will be matooke, Uganda’s national dish of unripe African Highland bananas; Walusimbi’s version uses plantains, which are steamed until soft then covered in binyebwa, a tan, spinach-flecked groundnut sauce made from peanuts.
It was this same dish that Walusimbi was instructed to prepare by a “very tough mother” as a child growing up in Central Uganda. The same one she labored over every day in cooking school. And a dish that earned her praise after she moved to L.A. in 1989, cooking as a community activist for the local Ugandan population, which is concentrated in the San Fernando Valley.
Your platter will probably also have flaky chapati, basmati rice, cassava, beans and one or two samosas surrounding your entrée.
Jaliz’s signature options include mbuzi, a goat stew rich with the smoky taste of grilled meat. There’s also ngege, a slightly sweet, orange broth bearing the weight of half a marinated tilapia. Luwombo, made with spiced beef ribs or chicken steamed inside a banana leaf; a cornmeal porridge named ugali; and curry-spiced, flame-grilled meats known as nyama choma are also available.
The mood is welcoming and jovial around the communal tables, where Ugandan emigrants are eager to talk, recommending the Rwandan hot sauce Akabanga or complimenting the way you may be eating with your hands, “like a real Ugandan.”
Jaliz Cuisine, which Walusimbi co-owns with her husband, Abbey, is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is also available for catering.
Before dedicating her waking hours to cooking, Walusimbi worked as a technician for St. Jude Medical Center. Now she’s eyeing another change: After four years, she hopes to grow the restaurant to a standalone location soon.