Home Dog senses Takeaway: Tee’s Liberian dish, winner of the CRANDIC Prize, engages all the senses

Takeaway: Tee’s Liberian dish, winner of the CRANDIC Prize, engages all the senses



Photos by Tiffani Green and Malcolm MacDougall, illustration by Jordan Sellergren / Little Village

Best of CRANDIC 2021 winner: Best African Cuisine

The first time I tried ordering from Tee’s Liberian Dish, I couldn’t. The restaurant had had such a busy day that they sold everything and had to go out of business early. That alone hints at what you can expect from Tee’s. Cedar Rapids’ first and so far only African restaurant was received with great enthusiasm.

Without being discouraged, I returned the next day to see what it was about. Like many people, my exposure to African food has been very limited. I combed through the extensive menu for keywords and chose two things that I vaguely recognized: fried tilapia, foufou, and soup.

Owner Teepeu Pewu, better known as Tee, warned me that tilapia takes a long time to make and wanted to know if I mind waiting for it. I didn’t and settled in to watch TV hanging on the wall behind the counter (an awkwardly censored and strangely haunting version of The wolf of Wall Street was playing on MTV.)

Tee’s is a family business and I could hear family members chatting in the kitchen and see them coming and going around the building. I got to chat briefly with Tee herself and learn a bit more about her. She had only been living in Iowa for six months when she launched her restaurant in August, an impressive achievement for anyone, let alone someone who has moved halfway around the world.

I’ve barely spent time at a business since the pandemic and something that struck me as I waited in the dining room at Tee’s Liberian Dish was that it felt comfortable and welcoming. The building previously housed Brewed Awakenings but has been transformed: one wall is painted a cheerful lime green, and the dining room is filled with chairs and tables with placemats with inspirational quotes. It is a space where everyone can feel at home.

Thirty minutes after ordering, the food came out of the kitchen and I understood why it was taking so long. It wasn’t the tilapia fillets I was used to but a whole fish nestled under a generous mound of vegetables and plantains. Foufou was pale bread accompanied by a rich, meaty stew.

The containers were loaded with food. Tee made sure they were packed well for my ride home and even offered to help me transport them to my car.

A test for any take out is whether it looks as attractive when you get home as it did when it was first packed, and whether everything stays neatly inside the containers. These dishes passed both counts including the soup container which was filled to the brim and did not spill a drop during transport. The food was even still hot after a 40 minute drive from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City.

Despite all my urge to try fufu, which is a soft, starchy food made from cassava and plantain powder, I quickly realized that I didn’t really know how to eat it. So I looked on the Internet and learned that foufou is considered a “swallowable food”, food that is not meant to be chewed. It has been compared to mashed potatoes in terms of consumption, although the textures are totally different. You take a little off at all and it was suggested to dip it in the soup, but I chose to put some in a bowl and pour the soup over it. The foufou had a mild flavor and a sort of spongy texture and served as a counterpoint to the richness and meatiness of the stew which contained fish and chicken and was spicy and warming. Neither would have worked on their own, but together they made a balanced and composed dish.

The tilapia was a real stumbling block – nothing to do with the bland, mushy version I’ve always had in the past. Fried whole, peel the skin revealed a flaky flesh, firm and moist and free from all of the fat one usually associates with fried foods. It came with a mixture of thinly sliced ​​peppers, onions, cucumbers, and fried plantains. The fish and vegetables had such an intense flavor that it was almost its own separate texture. The flavor profile is quite similar to that of Cajun and Creole cuisine, but it’s also quite its own thing. The plantains had a texture reminiscent of fried potatoes and a mild sweetness.

Tee’s Liberian Dish’s food engages all the senses with its rich textures, savory smells, vibrant colors, and dishes that invite you to use your hands to pinch some foufou out of a bun or remove flaky fish from the skin. and bones. Visit Tee and her family and brighten up this gray fall with a plate full of color and warmth.

“The Takeaway” is presented by CHOMP

Little Village Best of the CRANDIC is presented by the City of Iowa City; the Food and Drink category is also presented by CHOMP.

This article originally appeared in issue 301 of Little Village.

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