It took me 25 years to leave the U.S., and I didnt go very far. A cruise ship. Mexico and the Caribbean. So to say Im well-traveled is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature and meaning of words.
And yet here we are in Oklahoma City, and I find myself spoiled for choice when it comes to
eating the cuisine of Vietnam, Peru, India, the Mediterranean and more.
So many people from so many places have come here and given us a taste
of their home.
never been to West Africa, so I cannot tell you if the food at Mama
Sinmis Chop House, 2312 N. MacArthur Blvd., is exactly what the locals
eat. I can tell you that I loved it and that Im going back.
Sinmis is an intimate dining room with a handful of tables and a
sprawling mural of Africa on the wall (along with a Post-It Note
imploring visitors to keep their hands off it). Order at the counter,
but take your time. The menu can be daunting.
Luckily, the staff at Mama Sinmis is well-aware theyre in Oklahoma City and rubes like me are going to
come in with a bunch of questions. Still, if youd like to take the
advice of a West African food neophyte, here are a few suggestions.
Suya (three for $5) is grilled, marinated beef. Its simple, but that spicy ginger-peanut rub packs a ton of flavor and a nice kick.
The moin-moin ($2)
is kind of like a tamale, except its made of peeled, ground black-eyed
peas. Theres some not-too-spicy red sauce to pour on top. Its oddly
comforting, this thing I had never tried before. Honestly, an order of suya and a moin-moin and I might be full for the night.
if you dont get the meat pie ($2.50), youll be kicking yourself. Make
peace with the fact that youre eating a mix of spiced (but not too
spicy) ground beef, potatoes, carrots and peas inside a buttery shell.
Its a real hardship.
can get goat meat pepper soup as an appetizer ($4) or an entree ($8).
Its not that different from lamb or buffalo or even beef. Its a red
meat. In this case, its chunks of meat (some still attached to bone)
that are slow-stewed in a spicy broth. You can get it as-is and its
wonderful. Or you can add noodles, potatoes, rice, broccoli or okra.
But the real winner at my house was the jollof rice
with stewed chicken ($8 for a regular, $10 for a large). Have you ever
had a soup with rice in it where it just soaked up all the goodness of
the broth and became not quite a risotto but something more than rice?
Thats jollof. Here, the rice is cooked in peppers and tomatoes
and onion broth and spices. The end product is red and yellow and hearty
and filling. And that would be enough, but then you add on the chicken,
which is so tender that a nudge is all it takes to remove it from the
bread but not bread. You get a kind of thick paste made from yams or
corn or oats (your choice), and then you use it to pinch up some food.
For $12, we got the fufu egusi, which
combines melon seeds, spinach and broth with beef (or chicken, if you
prefer). For me, the beef could have been a bit easier to pinch, but the
rest of the dish tasted good. If youre easing into Mama Sinmis menu,
you might try a few other things before going full egusi.
But for a real original, I quite enjoyed the agwa awai ($5.50), beans and turkey cooked in that red sauce until each bite you eat stains your lips like a painted jezebel.
are elements of baked beans, including the stewed, but not totally soft
onions, but the flavors are completely different. Be careful of the
spice level, too. Im generally pretty brave, but a 3 (of 10) has been
enough to get my lips tingling.