Cat’s Corner: What I Learned Eating at Simi’s

By Catherine De Orio |

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Egusi soup

Hello all! This week we visit Simi’s in West Rogers Park, Mexique in Noble Square, and Cellar Door Provisions in Logan Square. I wanted to share some of the interesting things I learned while researching and visiting Simi’s. Enjoy! 

Simi’s is a Nigerian, or as Nigerians may say, a Naija restaurant in the culturally diverse West Rogers Park neighborhood. I enjoy African cuisine, but must admit I have only had North African cuisine from Morocco or East African Ethiopian cuisine. Of course, a continent as culturally rich as Africa has much to offer. Although I could write for days about the vibrant West African/Nigerian food culture, I will refrain and give a few tips that I learned while dining at Simi’s about how to approach the stews, or draw soups, which constitute the largest part of the Simi’s menu:

What’s a draw soup?
This type of soup comes from the southeastern and southwestern parts of Nigeria. They are made from okra, ogbono (melon seed) or ewedu (jute) leaves. It’s called “draw” soup because these ingredients serve as a thickener for the stew which lends a viscous characteristic noticeable as it is drawn from the serving bowl into your mouth. 

Ewedu draw soup at Simi's

What is that thing that looks like dough served with my stew?
This warm cellophane wrapped ball is Fufu. At Simi’s, they offer iyan (pounded yam) or amala (yam flour). It is starchy, but nothing like bread, and these yams are nothing like the North American ones we tend to enjoy at Thanksgiving. North American yams are basically just sweet potatoes by another name while African yams are very starchy, generally white-fleshed and not sweet. They serve as a neutral-flavored, carb and calorie dense part of the meal that allow the layered flavors of the stew to shine.

How do you eat the stew?
You eat your stew with your hands: The stews/draw soups are to be eaten using either the iyan or amala as your vehicle for sopping up the flavorful stew. If you have eaten Ethiopian cuisine, think of this as your injera.

But there’s more: Draw soups are part of the classification of recipes called fufu recipes. When eating this type of dish, the food is to be swallowed without chewing it. I was advised that it will seem unnatural at first but then you get used to it. Truth be told, I didn’t get used to it and resorted to chewing, which I guess is what children do!

To eat a draw soup in the traditional way, pull off a small piece (think easy to swallow!) of fufu and roll it into a small ball. Then dip into the stew/sauce and swallow. Remember no chewing! 

I hope you have fun and you get to use some of these tips when you visit Simi’s! And remember to stay tuned next week for three more great restaurants and some more inside dish right here on my blog!


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