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The fried tilapia, however, is nothing short of spectacular. Perfectly prepared, the marinated whole fish (with an option of two pieces) is deep-fried with a crispy skin covering tender, light meat and accompanied by a colorful and refreshing salsa of diced fresh peppers and couscous. For a more African experience, the tilapia, as well as a grilled chicken selection, can be had as spicy, marinated yassa. Mbaikambey makes her version of yassa with sautéed onions, bell peppers, green olives, peanut oil, and Dijon mustard. It's an unusual yet satisfying mix of tastes and textures, with the flavors of the mustard and sweet onions leading the way. I enjoyed it immediately and easily could have eaten a second helping.
If you choose to venture into the more exotic cuisine of Africa — and perhaps into the realm of acquired taste — two dishes at Fu-Fu Cuisine best assist in the journey. The first is a creation made with cassava leaves from a woody shrub common throughout many parts of Africa. The plant's leaves are dried and mixed with smoked fish, beef, goat meat, spices, and peanuts to create a thick, earthy mixture akin to spinach, but with fishy and nutty undertones. I liked it best with a serving of rice.
And the Nigerian favorite eugusi soup, often likened to the American cheeseburger because of its popularity, comes with fufu (also referred to on the menu as pounded yam). More a dense stew than a broth-y soup, eugusi is thickened with the ground seeds of West African melons and bolstered by vegetables. Mbaikambey's version includes goat meat, spinach, onions, dried catfish, crayfish, palm oil, and the African condiment, dawadawa. Like the cassava leaves, eugusi certainly won't win any awards for its looks, but I found its taste — slightly bitter and spicy — rich and comforting, especially when paired with starchy pieces of fufu.
3633 W. Camelback Road, 7
Phoenix, AZ 85019
Region: West Phoenix
Located at the end of a strip mall, Mbaikambey's restaurant is clean and comfortable. Decorated in African accents and with a TV pumping out Afropop music videos (sometimes too loudly), Fu-Fu Cuisine is populated with diners enjoying a plate of pof-pofs, relaxing with a beer, cocktail or, more likely, bottles of Vitamalt, a popular soft drink in the Caribbean and Africa that Mbaikambey likens to a sweet energy drink (the label advises Vitamalt be drunk at will or "as prescribed by doctor").
For dessert, Mbaikambey keeps it simple, serving a very good moist chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream. Though she doesn't consider herself a baker (and she has the burn marks on her arms to prove it), Mbaikambey credits her college professors for her skills and pushing her to succeed, a drive she seems to have in spades.