In an aging strip mall on the corner of NW 23 Street and MacArthur Boulevard, African flavor is taking root.
Between a West Indian/African market and the Ethiopian destination Queen of Sheba, a new restaurant serving West African fare recently opened. The restaurant is Mama Sinmi's Chop House, 2312 N MacArthur Blvd., specializing in all-natural, authentic cuisine from West Africa.
In a small room off the kitchen at Mama Sinmi's, owner/chef Ijeoma Popoola straddles a large wooden mortar carved from the trunk of a tree and works it with a pestle carved from a limb of the same tree.
Wearing a traditional African skirt and a star-quality smile, Popoola is making traditional fufu, a staple of her home country of Nigeria. She is Mama Sinmi, a name that comes from the Nigerian tradition of a mother honoring her firstborn by taking their name.
Her husband, Andrew Popoola, who also was born in Nigeria, likes to talk about how they come from the same place but from wildly different cultures. Andrew Popoola, who moved to this country at the age of 12 and was educated in Florida and the United States Air Force, says there are hundreds of languages in use today in Nigeria alone. He describes a scene which doesn't sound too different from the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel.
“That's why we had to adopt English so there would be one language we all understood,” he said. “Even though it's pidgin English.”
In this 22-seat cafe adorned with a beautiful mural by Bob Palmer on the south wall, the Popoolas are sharing the story of a couple born in Africa and raised to contribute to Western civilization. Andrew Popoola served in the Air Force as an Air Battle Manager. Though not in active duty now, he maintains reserve status, meaning he still devotes a good portion of his time to the security of the United States at Tinker Air Force Base.
While he's protecting our freedoms, Ijeoma Popoola is back at her wood-carved mortar spinning their story through the simple dish called fufu.
You'll see restaurants advertise rustic Italian cuisine or rustic Southern cuisine. It doesn't get anymore rustic than fufu.
“The food in West Africa is truly natural and organic,” Ijeoma Popoola says with an enthusiasm impossible to prefabricate.
In her mortar are boiled yams and cassavas with dried oats and banku, a blend of ground, fermented corn and cassavas. The ingredients are ground and worked into a tacky paste hand-rolled into balls and served with a variety of dishes. Diners pinch pieces away from the balls of fufu and tamp them into discs fit for scoop or swiping. The fufu offers little flavor as it is built to balance the intensely spicy flavors of the dishes they partner with on the table.