Fufu and I

Fufu prepared with fish soup at the Janjay Boyah Food Center in Cestos City, Liberia. Photo by Sung Park

Ever since I made plans to come to Liberia, I was intrigued by the prospect of eating the various foods of West Africa. In preparation for the trip, I downloaded Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” show on Liberia and Ghana to get a feel for the place and the food. I found the local staple to be Fufu. Funny name, interesting taste and texture. I would have to wait about a week after arriving in Monrovia to have a taste of the regional delicacy. Why the wait? Well, the place where we are staying caters to the Western palate, which is safe, but not very exciting. Meals here consist of continental breakfast, sandwiches, pasta, rice, and chicken — but no Fufu. You don’t really experience a place until you sample the local cuisine, so I was eager to branch out from the daily routine here at the compound.

Our trip out to Rivercess County provided the perfect opportunity to fulfill my culinary desires. It was a sweltering afternoon in downtown Cestos City. The overcast sky provided very little protection from the heat and humidity of West Africa. Like most days during the rainy season, a heavy downpour forced us to seek shelter at a nearby restaurant/shack. The moment I had been waiting for had arrived. Fufu was on the menu and I was ready for lunch.

Ever since I arrived in Liberia, my experience has been strangely familiar. I spent my early childhood in the outskirts of Seoul, Korea, and as a photojournalist, I’ve spent time in the interior of Mexico on assignment. The sights, sounds and smells of Liberia have been reminders of time spent in developing areas of the world. In the same way, my first taste of Fufu with soup was familiar. I had arrived. The texture and flavor made me feel at home as with many comfort foods that I have encountered. The briny fish soup with chili flakes reminded me of the fish soup with greens that my mother will still cook from time to time. Fufu had the look of pizza dough, with a texture akin to the slimy outer shell of a dumpling from the South. While some will say that fufu has no taste, I will argue that it does. The subtle taste of the cassava root that had been pounded with water to its paste-like consistency, was a great complement to the strong briny flavor of the fish broth.

I’m happy to report that Fufu and I are doing just fine. There is a bright future ahead with the variety of proteins and greens that will accompany Fufu in the various regions I will visit.


About Sung Park

Sung Park is an Instructor of Photojournalism and Multimedia at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. He taught previously as an assistant professor and adjunct at The Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and at The University of Texas at Austin. He previously worked as a photojournalist and picture editor at the Austin American-Statesman for 14 years. Park is an award winning photojournalist who has been published nationally and internationally. He has a B.S. in Photoillustration and an M.F. A. in Transmedia from Syracuse University.