A visit to Sankofa Community Kitchen on the West End of Providence to try a few entrees from recently opened Talkin’ Tummy turned into an intimate sit-down lunch with founder and CEO Onyinyechi Njoku. Amid the enticing smells of spices and savory meats and the sound of humming appliances, Njoku presented her food to me with humor and humility, asking for my feedback as I tried each dish, and by the end we were joking around like old friends.
With co-founder Philletta Payne, Talkin’ Tummy is Njoku’s West African pop-up kitchen that she started four years ago, though she only just recently took a leap and left her pharmaceutical job to pursue her food business full-time. Cooking with her grandmother since she was a child in Nigeria, Njoku developed a love early on for preparing and serving meals. “Food is my love language,” she told me. “[Cooking] is my way of giving back to the world.”
Njoku moved to Rhode Island in middle school with her family. Although she fell in love with Providence, she noticed that family members encountered ailments she didn’t see while living in Nigeria. When her father was diagnosed with cancer, her family reevaluated their diets, including where their produce was coming from. Today, her father is doing much better, and her family continues to grow their own vegetables.
With Talkin’ Tummy, Njoku intentionally incorporates fresh ingredients into every meal. She hopes that through her pop-ups, she can “help change the way we eat in the US,” she explained. “The diet here is killing people.”
Presentation also matters to Njoku. I watched her chop scallions to generously garnish the house special, TT’s Homemade Jollof Rice. Pleasantly spiced rice was cooked with red bell peppers and served with perfectly seasoned grilled chicken breasts and – a personal favorite of mine – sweet fried plantains, served soft with crispy edges.
Next, I tried the Fufu and Okra Soup, with a peppery aroma that drew me in. The soup contained a beautiful mix of goat meat, crab, palm oil, and onion. I dipped my fingers in water to roll the soft fufu, which is made from pounded yam – like mashed potatoes but denser – to eat with the broth. Njoku explained this is generally served in large portions.
As we finished talking and eating, Njoku shared, “When I come into the kitchen, I feel alive. It feels like home to me.” And each of her pop-up patrons are sure to feel like family when ordering from Talkin’ Tummy.
Follow @talkintummy401 on Instagram for special events, or visit TalkinTummy.com to inquire about catering.
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