Sixteen countries make up West Africa, and all 16 are represented in Grand Rapids. That means a lot of weddings and other special occasions — and a lot of demand for traditional food to get the party started.
That’s how Lillian Griffiths and her business partner, Faith Giplaye, started on
the path that led them to create Motherland Foods. “We have a lot of Africans here, but we didn’t have a caterer to do our style of wedding dishes,” Griffiths said. The women decided to open a catering service and takeout restaurant serving favorite foods of their native Liberia that you can pick up or DoorDash.
Liberian dishes are a literal melting pot thanks to the country’s history — it was founded by freed slaves from North America, combining their food traditions with those of indigenous Liberian tribes. In addition to the Southern United States, “they were Jamaicans, they were from places across Africa, they were from Barbados. They were from everywhere!” Griffiths exclaimed.
And Liberia’s food includes as many ingredients as Liberian culture. “When Liberians cook, they cook with everything!” Griffiths said. “They mix seafood, beef, chicken — everything in one pot. You get all the substance and the nutrients for a unique kind of food — and we spice it up!”
Ready to dig in?
Motherland Foods offers a slate of dishes built on chicken, turkey, oxtails and goat, as well as native produce like egusi and cassava leaves. Most come with a choice of imported Liberian rice or fufu, a soft dumpling made from cassava and plantain meal.
To eat fufu in the authentic African style, tear off pieces with your fingers and use them to scoop up the juicy stuff. Try it with one
of Motherland’s soups: egusi, palm butter or peanut butter (all with smoked turkey and chicken). It’s a little like using gnocchi as a soup spoon, but the results are mighty tasty!
If you’d rather hold onto your fork, opt for rice. Jollof rice is a West African classic that inspires hot debate about which country’s recipe is best. Motherland Foods’ version is a delicious mix of spices and a light tomato base — try it in a combination plate that includes baked chicken, a side of pepper sauce and cornbread.
Fried plantains are another tasty side dish that West Africa shares with Latin America. They’re delicious paired with stewed oxtails and rice and beans.
To round out your meal, try the puff puffs — fried dough balls that resemble giant donut holes.