Taste of the Motherland: Local Chefs Are Uniting Palates through African Dishes Amidst Virtual Food Trend  

A popular Nigerian dish, fufu and egusi stew.

Photo provided by David Rudolph

 

You might have seen them all over social media.

 

Melanated people and others throughout America scooping fufu (a boiled starchy African food) onto their fingers and sometimes precariously dipping into a dish called Egusi soup, a popular, hearty West African stew containing meats, leaf vegetables, palm oil and seasonings. Then they taste it, some apprehensively, and post their reactions on social media to the dismay and delight of millions.

 

Those reactions in what is called the “fufu challenge” are making this viral trend hilarious and engaging for some who want to see these reactions or try the dish — yet disrespectful and disappointing for others who post in response that their culture is not a trend.

 

Across the app TikTok #fufu videos have been seen more than 250 million times, according to a latimes.com article. The videos have been posted and discussed (also debated) throughout Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and on WhatsApp and in group chats, per the article.

 

Fufu, sticky in texture, is made out of cassava, yams, or plantains, which have been boiled, pounded, and rounded into balls. The pounding process typically involves a mortar and pestle or, if it’s prepackaged fufu, it can be stirred into boiling water and shaped into a ball. Fufu can have a consistency similar to mashed potatoes and doesn’t have a taste per se; it’s more of a vehicle for transporting the food into one’s mouth, experts say.

 

Locally, chefs who haven’t yet seen the fufu challenge are trying to bridge any cultural chasms between Black American taste buds and African foods by introducing African-inspired recipes to Detroit during Black History Month and beyond.

 

Godwin Ihentuge, a Nigerian American chef and restaurateur of Afro-Caribbean YumVillage, 6500 Woodward Ave., said lightheartedly that he wants to get in on the challenge as he has fufu at his restaurant. He said that when he first started cooking African food at his establishment he was “very much a traditionalist.”

 

“A lot of my business wasn’t expansive,” Ihentuge said of his carefully prepared dishes, which he’s tailored to different palates. “We do our best to try to feed the diaspora, not just Africa. … We’re trying to push and show the diaspora through that African-Caribbean lens.”

 

He added that upon recently learning of the fufu challenge — internet squabbling aside — it does his heart warm that Black Americans, among others, are even showing interest in African dishes because five years ago some might not even know what fufu might be.

 

Ihentuge added that in the past, he’s seen a viral YouTube video of two Korean sisters eating fufu for the first time and he’s glad more people are getting interested in this dish popular in his own country and other countries in Africa.

 

“But I need to get in on it and have people try our fufu,” he said of capitalizing on the challenge, adding that his spin on his fufu recipe was inspired by an employee.

 

“We have a dish called ‘The Symphony,’ formerly The Hood Symphony, an off-menu item … created by a guy here at the restaurant,” Ihentuge said. “He didn’t like the fufu but everyone has to eat the food — he did it his way. … A fusion of what fufu can be like in an American palate. … He did egusi with chicken strips and coconut rice and a little bit of fufu on the side. We fry the fufu here because a lot of people don’t like to get their hands sticky.”

 

Ihentuge said now he starts eating fried fufu for the same reason — it eliminates the mess, which he says is very important to the people who don’t know about fufu and might be apprehensive.

 

Ihentuge added that in his restaurant that serves colorful dishes ranging from flavorful rice and meat entrees to jerk oxtails with root vegetables (did we mention drum lessons, meal plans, and clothes, too?) there’s a lot to taste and the flavors keep coming.

 

Presently, he’s working on two new recipe items including moi moi, a traditional West African bean pie. He said in other countries like Gambia or Senegal they call it different names.

 

“Essentially what it is is dried black-eyed peas crushed and ground with fish and egg and boiled in a banana leaf or something like that,” he said. “What we’re going to do is take that traditional West African dish and convert it to meatloaf and serve it with greens and cornbread.”

 

Another dish on the menu is roti, a popular dish one would see in the Caribbean and Trinidad. Ihentuge said that the food “is our heritage” and to do the things necessary to “make it right” is a culinary remix he enjoys.

 

So, about that fufu challenge again — Ihentuge’s going to look more into that, he said on his way to his restaurant earlier last week after purchasing some items for his bustling kitchen.

 

“Now I know about it I am definitely going to get in on it,” he said warmly.

 

Jermond Booze, co-creator of Taste of the Diaspora, alongside Ederique Goudia and Raphael Wright, knows a lot about bringing the taste of African dishes to Detroiters looking for a taste of the motherland. Taste the Diaspora Detroit was created to celebrate Africa’s contribution to American cuisine in highlighting the food of the African Diaspora, according to their website. This local initiative is “in support of Black restaurants, chefs, farmer, and food makers and to grow community across the local food system.”

 

Booze told The Michigan Chronicle that this was a project the trio started in December as “three friends who wanted to do something for the culture and Blacks in the food industry.”

 

“It seems to be taking off and we are now working on events for June but haven’t fully worked out the details,” he said, adding that throughout the month different culinary dishes are introduced and prepared weekly with a paired chef and restaurant.

 

The first week one chef and one restaurant cooked a dish based on that particular establishment’s cuisine and also teamed up with a local Black farmer or product maker, Booze said.

 

Week one featured African cuisine; week two featured Creole; the third week was Caribbean week and the fourth week is slated to be Southern American week.

 

“Both dishes are placed in our box alongside some general information based around the part of the diaspora that week is dedicated to,” he said. “We were able to raise over $10,000 which goes directly to the participating chefs and restaurants.”

 

The reception for the culinary dishes this month has been nothing short of amazing.

 

“We’ve had nothing but positive reception from the community. Everyone seems to understand that we’re doing this for the culture and empowerment of those who look like us. This in part is about us telling our food story which ultimately is our history,” he said.

 

Booze added that they’ve paid for everything out-of-pocket from the website to the custom boxes with QR codes on them that links them to Taste the Diaspora’s website.

 

“All revenue earned from the sale of the boxes went right back to the chefs. In addition, we are giving out 100 of the meals to food-insecure families through Oakland Avenue Urban Farms. Donating to this cause helps us continue to promote our food industry workers and to continue educating people about the influence of Blacks in the food culture,” he said.

 

Booze added that while he too is not familiar with the fufu challenge, the discussion around it (and some negative backlash) is “why it’s even more important for projects such as Taste the Diaspora to exist.”

 

“People have no real idea of what people in Africa eat and in Detroit, there are few options to experience cuisine connected to the homeland,” he said. “Unfortunately, Africa has been painted as a less civilized culture for hundreds of years in America and throughout much of the world, and we need projects like this to help change that perception,” Booze said. “Understanding the history behind the food you eat serves as a source of empowerment and a better understanding of self.”

 

Find out more information at http://www.yumvillage.com/ and https://www.tastethediaspora.com/.

 

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