Story and Photography by Lindsay Sterling
African foufou is not something you learn once and get. I’ve had three different teachers, Kenyan, Congolese, and Ghanaian, and I can “do” it, but I look like one those unbelievably bad dancers on "So You Think You Can Dance." Portland designer, Ebenezer Akakpo, instructed me on foufou dynamics in his Yarmouth apartment. “It’s going all over the sides [of the pot]!” He poked fun as I attempted the stirring motion. “Try to keep it together.”
Ebenezer, born in Ghana, and I, born in Wisconsin, met one day in Roxbury, Massachusetts, at Tropical Foods Supermarket. I’d heard this was the place to go for a foufou stick (a stirring tool) and discovered that this is also the place where all the animal parts go that have gone missing from other supermarkets! Here were some of the labels in the meat section: “Chicken feet, beef neck, beef tongue, pork stomach, pig tails, pig snout, and beef feet.” Ebenezer must have seen me, the only white person in the crowded store, trying to guess my way through what looked like 100 different, boxed foufou mixes. He offered to show me how his family did made it in Ada. As we planned our cooking session, we discovered Ebenezer and I lived just 7 miles from each other in Maine! Well what a small, delicious world full of kind people! I love it!
I’m calling the soup he taught me to go with the foufou, “Ebenezer’s All-Powerful Peanut Soup” because you start by blending 5 habanero chili peppers, 4 inches of peeled ginger root, 31 cloves of peeled garlic (that’s two heads!), 1 red onion, and a handful basil with 6 quarts water. Whoa! You then strain the solids and cook in that flavored water: 1 whole “cock” (his words! Any chicken will do, cut into pieces, bones in), 9 bouillon cubes, something smoked (he used pork hocks), tomato paste, and 3 de-skinned blended tomatoes. In a separate small pot, you cook unsweetened peanut butter that has been blended with 1 onion and water, until a stirring spoon leaves a clear trail in the bottom of the pot. Then you mix the super creamy, thick peanut butter-onion mixture into the soup, and add halved mushrooms. Once they’ve sucked in that insanely satisfying, rich thick broth, then your deeply, deeply delicious dinner is ready.
A woman from Burundi appeared at Ebenezer’s table just at this moment (nice timing!) and showed me how to eat with proper manners. First, bring your fingers together and dip them lightly in your bowl of soup. Then, with those wet fingers, you pinch off a small glob of the fou fou and form it into a round bite. Press your thumb into it to make a mini-scoop. Dip the scoop in the soup, and then put the whole soup-laden nugget in your mouth. Ebenezer and his friend did this in the literal blink of an eye – this was just one bite! At home, my kids and I considered it a near miracle that we could eat whole bowls of soup with our hands. I enjoyed scoffing with my children, “Spoons are for English people!” Like we’re African now or something. As for the big pieces of chicken in the soup, you just pick those up with your hands, eat the meat and suck those bones for every morsel of goodness. Thanks, Ebenezer, for making the big-wide-world into a small, delicious one.