Chopped

It took me 25 years to leave the U.S., and I didn’t go very far. A cruise ship. Mexico and the Caribbean. So to say I’m 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.

I have
never been to West Africa, so I cannot tell you if the food at Mama
Sinmi’s Chop House, 2312 N. MacArthur Blvd., is exactly what the locals
eat. I can tell you that I loved it and that I’m going back.

Mama
Sinmi’s 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 Sinmi’s is well-aware they’re in Oklahoma City and rubes like me are going to
come in with a bunch of questions. Still, if you’d like to take the
advice of a West African food neophyte, here are a few suggestions.

Suya (three for $5) is grilled, marinated beef. It’s 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 it’s made of peeled, ground black-eyed
peas. There’s some not-too-spicy red sauce to pour on top. It’s 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.

But
if you don’t get the meat pie ($2.50), you’ll be kicking yourself. Make
peace with the fact that you’re eating a mix of spiced (but not too
spicy) ground beef, potatoes, carrots and peas inside a buttery shell.
It’s a real hardship.

You
can get goat meat pepper soup as an appetizer ($4) or an entree ($8).
It’s not that different from lamb or buffalo or even beef. It’s a red
meat. In this case, it’s chunks of meat (some still attached to bone)
that are slow-stewed in a spicy broth. You can get it as-is and it’s
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?
That’s 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
bone.

Fufu is
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 you’re easing into Mama Sinmi’s 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.

There
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. I’m generally pretty brave, but a 3 (of 10) has been
enough to get my lips tingling.

Greg Elwell

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