About once a year since 2001, Fatou Cham, my friend Ebrima’s wife, has provided me great home cooked meals in their home in Old Jeshwang, The Gambia. My home cooked memories provided Mansa Kunda
, the new, well-appointed Gambian restaurant in Takoma Park, Maryland, big cooking pots to fill.
Did I like Mansa Kunda? I did.
The ambience of their casual dining space will entice you to walk around before you order your meal. You will soon notice that some of the seats creatively incorporate the iconic homeland drum, the light shades are made of basket straw, and the flat screen TVs will probably be tuned to a show featuring Continental African musicians and the other to a football (soccer) game.
“It’s a fusion of ‘gentrification’ and traditional African influences,” commented Ida Jones, who also eaten at Cham Kunda (the house of the Cham’s).
Hatib Joof, the owner, and his brother and restaurant manager, Alieu, grew up in Bakau, The Gambia. Hatib says memories of watching the craftsmen at the marketplace while traveling back and forth from St. Augustine High School influenced how he adorned the space. However, the “food,” he added, “is a reflection of the whole country.”
The appetizer meat pies, for instance, were not greasy or overstuffed with meat; allowing me to enjoy the taste of the crust. The sauté plantains were bit-sized and just sweet enough, also without the flood of grease. I never had the shito pepper condiment and moved past the sauce after a taste. It had the tang of palm oil, but Joof affirmed that it is made with canola oil.
Shito is really more Ghanaian explained Joof. However, this dish is not a deflection. There is a Ghanaian population in The Gambia, including many of whom are members of Glory Baptist Church in Old Jeshwang, which I occasionally attend.
The entrées at the Takoma Park eatery were perfect. Jones had chicken yassa; she likes the dish since it comes with lots of sauté onions. I had chu, which was the second to last meal I got from Fatou. I have to admit the Mansa Kunda’s tomato-based sauce was a tad bit better than Fatou’s. The sauce went well with the rice I had and the couscous that Jones ordered. The chicken was grilled to Gambian perfection, meaning well-done. The vegetables in the sauce were my greatest delight.
The vegetables in the sauce can vary says Joof, but the sauce often consist of carrots, potatoes, and eggplant. “We have been buying most of our vegetables from a local resident who has a farm around Frederick and we use what he has available,” explained Joof, who is a vegetarian. “Almost 90% of our dishes can be made vegetarian,” he added.
“I felt like I was right in Gambia eating the same foods that I eat there. I had benechin, of course,” Tina Thompson responded knowing that I love domoda, which is meat and rice smothered in groundnut (peanut) sauce.
My often travel partner to Africa’s Smiling Coast, Tina Thompson, beat me to dining at Mansa Kunda, which opened in January. She too has eaten at Fatou’s and introduced me to our favorite local restaurant Khady Khady’s, which is also a favorite among cab drivers in Kololi, The Gambia. So, how did Tina compare the two with Mansa Kunda?
“I felt like I was right in Gambia eating the same foods that I eat there. I had benechin, of course,” she responded knowing that I love domoda, which is meat and rice smothered in groundnut (peanut) sauce. Mansa Kunda serves domoda by its simpler to pronounce name, peanut butter chu. “I loved the authentic food, I loved how they use the djembe drums for seats, and I loved the art,” Thompson continued.
Mansa Kunda, which means the house of the Mansa (king) or kingdom in Mandinka, also features an extensive bar, serves breakfast, midday snacks, and brunch on the weekends. Being a fan of both plantains and sorrel (hibiscus), which is also called Wonjo in Gambia, I look forward to trying their plantain pancakes with home-made sorrel syrup.
Everyone is not going to make it to The Gambia, though it is only a seven-hour flight from America's east coast. Everyone cannot get a home cooked meal from Fatou or take a seat at Khady Khady’s restaurant. However, everyone in or visiting Metro Washington can take a partial day trip to Mansa Kunda.