In 2011, my apartment in Bukavu was on the top floor of a three storey building, and on one of the floors below us was a family, with an adorable little boy and little girl, who tried out their English with my roommate and I anytime they could. There were countless evenings I would come home to little cries of Good morning! How are you? But that was the extent of it so we would inevitably end up in silence, kind of laughing.
Their mom would make fufu…it seemed like every day…although maybe the blurriness of nostalgia makes my memories that much more amplified.
Fufu is a staple in the DRC and in much of West and Central Africa. Painstakingly prepared from cassava or sometimes maize or semolina, fufu can take many variations. The off-white of the cassava, the light yellow of the maize and a deep red fufu that I have only seen once, in a village 6 or so hours away from town, in South Kivu. Heavy in starch, fufu is intended to fill you up - a task it accomplishes with ease. And although not very rich in nutrients, it’s one of the most common local foods.
Back in 2011 though, every morning I would wake up - usually to the screeching of motos in the street just below us; or the running club around 5am every…single…day, chanting a pep-song, and when heading down the curving stairs around the building, would cross paths with the mama living below us, back already bent over a giant pot or pestle already beginning to prepare fufu for her family for the day.
Fufu is a dough-like consistency, served in a ball, from which you pinch with your fingers, and roll in a ball before dipping into whatever you are eating with it. If you’re in Eastern Congo, that is often lenga-lenga, sombe, peanut sauce, or if one is fortunate enough, fish or meat with sauce.
Expert dip: Pressing in your finger into your fufu, makes your fufu ball into a fufu scoop - that much easier for dipping and eating.
Mama Kindja - of Bukavu fame, a popular restaurant and watering hole for locals and expats alike, is known for its sombe - that they serve with far too much fufu. Some of my fondest memories of Bukavu, are in that restaurant. Now, it has been renovated and their palm lined roof huts have been spruced up, new chairs, less flies - but back then - I was there at least once a week. I and many of my friends then, would crave her salty, oily fried fish and fries, sombe, fufu and the reason for the restaurant's fame - its grilled goat. Chewy and sometimes tough to swallow, it was charred to perfection, salty and perfect with a beer, Coke or Vitalo - the sweetest red soda there ever was.
Sometimes, the electricity would go out, and the restaurant’s employees would come light candles on our tables - which was also helpful for keeping the flies away. Great conversations, belly laughs, heartfelt discussions, tears and joy have all taken place in this Bukavu landmark (even if not officially), and over a giant ball of fufu and bowl of sombe.