Monday, March 25, 2013

Fufu and Dumboy

Bowl of fufu with soup

Bassa woman pounding dumboy in mortar with pestle
Fufu (or foo foo, fu fu, fu-fu) is found all throughout Western Africa, while dumboy is more closely associated with areas around Liberia.  Both dumboy and fufu are served as a doughy ball that has been pounded and strained from a starchy food like rice, semolina or cassava.  The pounding is usually done in a large, wooden mortar and pestle and the straining with a cloth and a large bowl.  In Liberia fufu is usually made from dried and fermented cassava root; while dumboy is made from fresh cassava.  

Pounded cassava from the mortar

Boiling the pounded cassava

Ma Sarah is straining the pounded and boiled cassava

Both fufu and dumboy are usually served with a "soup" that is poured over these doughy balls of starch.  My theory is that chicken and dumplings are a recreation of this old country fufu that enslaved Africans made with found ingredients in the US.  Think one big dumpling in a bowl with the chicken soup poured over it and you have something rather similar to this African dish.     

Forming the pounded, boiled & strained cassava into doughy balls of fufu

In Liberia fufu and dumboy are not chewed, but rather swallowed in smaller balls that you pull off of the bigger dough ball.  It used to be considered rude to chew the dumboy or fufu, but it is often overlooked when us foreigners do it wrong.  However, if you get the chance to eat fufu or dumboy with a Liberian community see if you can just swallow a small ball of it whole like the Liberians do.  I found it to be an enjoyable way to enjoy this particular dish.  Also, people often use their finger to make a small indentation in the ball they pull off of the bigger dough ball and soup and put inside that indentation before you swallow it.  That seems to help it go down more smoothly!

Getting ready to swallow some dumboy served with goat liver and pepper soup.

Now which do I prefer; dumboy o fufu?  It seems like I should enjoy the dumboy more having been raised around the Bassa tribe (the Bassa in particular are associated with dumboy).  However, if I am only to be in Liberia a short time I will usually go with the fufu as I trust the fermentation process to help kill harmful bacteria that are foreign to my sensitive stomach.  I know of several Americans who have had problems after swallowing dumboy because they had not yet adjusted their innards to that which lives in dumboy.   That being said, if you're up to the challenge and/or have acclimated yourself to Liberia, you should try swallowing dumboy as well as fufu.  I swallowed both to no ill effect while in Liberia in 2011.

A Chop Shop sign in Monrovia advertising Fufu

Fufu covered with a meat loaded soup
To me the best part of the fufu or dumboy experience is the soup.  The actual fufu/dumboy has little taste in itself, but when combined with the right ingredients it is an overall culinary delight!  Here was my favorite Liberian meal when I visited in 2011:  fufu covered with pepper soup with fish and some ground bennie seed paste put on top of that.  Delicious!  It was also kind of fun to say as the bennie seed (sesame seed) paste was called dudu in Bassa and so I would ask for dudu for my fufu (say that a couple times; it's fun to say!)

There is also a very hard fufu called GB that is served more in Nimba county (I believe it is associated with the Mano and Gio peoples).  GB is traditionally served with what we would consider rotten meat in the soup and the hard blocks of GB are swallowed like large chunky pills.  I saw several chop shops with the letters G & B painted on them and assume that is what was served there.  I have not tried this yet and I'm a bit hesitant;  but who knows?  Maybe someday... and maybe someday you too will also be able to try and swallow some Liberian fufu or dumboy if you have not already.  It is an experience you won't soon forget!

Kitchen is almost closed after a long day of making fufu


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