Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sierra Leone: All you ever wanted to learn about the measles, colonoscopies, and how to catch a serial killer

The television in the hole-in-the-wall that is Sumah's West African Restaurant and Carryout was blaring CNN. I was going to ask the waiter (who turned out to be Sumah himself) if he wouldn't mind turning it down a wee bit, but his friendly welcome made me bite my tongue. Samah asked if we'd eaten in his restaurant before and as we had not, brought us a plate with a spoonful of each dish from the menu. Everything was delicious, but after much deliberation (to the noisy tune of CNN's report on the killing of a Japanese hostage by ISIS, the ongoing measles outbreak and the death of Whitney Houston's daughter), we settled on eguisi (a stew made from leafy greens and ground pumpkin or melon seeds), peanut stew, and okra stew. I have to mention that the service at Sumah's is maybe the slowest I've ever had. As it happened, my friends and I were in no hurry and happy to have the chance to catch up, but we might have had tickets to the Howard Theater around the corner or plans later in the evening and I did not really get the feeling that it is possible to hurry things along at Sumah's. We waited a very long time for Sumah to take our order and a very, very, very long time for the food to come (this seemed particularly odd because we had already tasted the stews we ordered, so they must have been ready in the kitchen. Is there only one pot? one microwave?) and then a good long while to pay. All the while, CNN's measles story turned to Morgan Spurlock (who I once saw on the street in New York) getting a colonoscopy in Thailand, and then after we had finished eating and were trying very hard to pay, we got to watch almost all of How to Catch a Serial Killer. All at a pretty high decibel level.

In any case, after a long CNN-fueled wait, we were brought  a giant ball of fufu (this gluey cassava-based starch is a staple in Sierra Leone and other West African countries - I like it, but a little goes a long way). Our fufu sat there looking cold and lonely for several minutes and then we got a dish of rice. I'm don't personally need a lot of finery, but it did strike me as odd that all the food came in a tupperware or to-go containers. No matter, we finally got two of the three stews we'd ordered and were definitely ready to eat (our third stew came a while later). Under other circumstances, the loud tv, slow service, and lack of actual plates might have put me off this place, but the food is not only interesting, but very, very good and Sumah is a charmer (I'm sure he would have been happy to turn down the TV volume if I had asked). Somehow, West African food seems more different from the various cuisines that have been incorporated into mainstream American food. I can't quite say why Ethiopian or Thai food feels more "western" to me, but it does. I might not bring a picky friend to Sumah's, but it's a treat to remember how a single meal can offer you a window into another place.

1727 7th St., NW, DC

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