Sunday, September 23, 2012

African fufu at Mama Africa in Itaewon

My 2nd grade high school kids have been studying a chapter on international foods (particularly different countries' versions of dumplings) with their Korean English teachers recently. I've taken to patterning this semester's lessons on the textbook materials so the students can get a more consistent message. Nina and her co-teacher in Dong Song sparked the idea for doing so because gave a presentation about this idea during a workshop this summer. It seemed a good idea and so far it's working: the students seem more focused on their studies because I'm teaching some of the same things as the other teachers.

To get back to the food, I got to thinking about how the textbook never mentioned anything about African dumplings. Surely, I thought, African food has some kind of dumpling dish, so I did some research and read about a west African food called fufu (also spelled as foo-foo), a kind of dough ball that gets served with stews. YouTube had a video about it too, so I watched it and thought the kids might enjoy seeing it too. They did. Being rural Cheorwon students tend to not know much about food from outside of Asia* so I strive to expand their knowledge in that area. They knew nothing of African food (neither did I until now, too) had mixed reactions to the idea of eating food without utensils. More than one class said "Dirty!" during the video. This was interesting because of all the other foods they eat with their hands: pizza, bread, fried chicken, and barbecued meats like galbi or samgyeopsal. Maybe it was the shock of the new? They probably weren't considering this.

Seeing the video got me interested in trying the fufu because you take a hunk of dough and make a mini-shovel out of it to scoop up the stew. You can leave your spoons, forks, and chopsticks in the drawer for this finger food. It sounded like a good time, and as I'd be in Seoul with Rochelle on the weekend, we made plans to check this out.

A quick Google search turned up Itaewon's Mama Africa restaurant. The review I read looked good. We had lunch there on Saturday and everything tasted great. We will come back again soon. We picked a non-spicy stew that had goat meat and vegetables in it. We were asked if we knew what to do about eating the fufu and I enthusiastically said, "Yep, sure do!" and mentioned the video and the restaurant review. The owner lady liked that.

The fufu and stew arrived before the other dishes did. It tasted excellent and it filled us up enough that we barely touched our fried plantains and fried jollof rice to go.** African cuisine went from "unknown" to "top 5" in 1 bite in my view. Yep, it's that good. Eating's always good when your fingers get a bit sticky--especially when you're experience a food from a different area of the world.

Fufu on the left, stew in the right. You're basically working with edible Play-Doh here. Fun stuff!

Holding a bit of fufu. I'm breaking a rule by using my left hand here because I'm left handed, but yep, I was indeed excited. (As per the below video, use your right hand. Apparently, the western African culture does the same thing as Arab culture: your right hand's for eating and shaking hands and your left hand's the "unclean" hand. No one noticed though. I'll know better next time)

Rice and chicken. Also quite good. Eating roasted--not fried, roasted--chicken felt quite good because unlike the States, regular grilled chicken breasts aren't easy to find here. Fried chicken and dakgalbi (spicy grilled chicken and vegetables) is much more common.

Here's the video if you don't want to leave this page.

Some information:

Mama Africa's near exit 4 of Itaewon Station. When you come out of the exit, turn around, cross the street and go down to the next intersection. You'll go down a slight hill. Turn left at the intersection, walk a few seconds, and you'll see Mama Africa on your left. Food costs between 7 and 10,000 won. We'd recommend sharing a foo foo and stew because it's almost too much for one person!

Oh yeah, the staff's quite friendly and helpful if you have any questions about the food.

This page has the review.

* Except for ice cream, pizza, spaghetti, fried chicken, donuts, bread, and waffles.

** It made for a good breakfast today

A quick note about Itaewon

For those who don't know, the centrally located Itaewon neighborhood makes up the heart of Seoul's foreigner community. It boasts many fine restaurants and clothes shops. It's also home to many clubs and bars, some of which explain why Itaewon's not always the best place to go at night. My fellow Cheorwon buddies have mixed opinions about the neighborhood. I maintain that it's a fun place to go during the day and haven't been there at night, so I can't give any opinions of the clubs or bars. I've been to a few clubs in Seoul and I can't say that they're worth going to. I don't care for overly loud dance music.

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