There are a wealth of new local eateries cropping up in the metro and even more coming. If they’re not on your radar, they should be. From the comfy atmosphere at The Barrel on Western Avenue to the laid-back vibe at the Plaza District’s coffee shop, you might find a new regular hangout.
— by Devon Green, photos by Mark Hancock and Shannon Cornman
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..
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.