Chef Howsoon Cham, affectionately known as “H.O.,” is living out what some would define as the “American Dream.” He came to the United States at 18 from Gambia, setting out on a unique mission through the universal language of food after graduating from Bethany College.
Studying under the James Beard award-winning chef Cindy Wolf in the early 1990s, Cham has opened several restaurants. His Northwest D.C.-based restaurant Moi Moi, works to unite Africans and African Americans in a world often divided by borders and cultural differences.
“There’s a lot of connection between food, slavery and history. That’s how this came about,” Cham said when discussing the founding of Moi Moi, located at 1627 K Street NW.
For Black Americans looking to connect with their African culture, Cham said Moi Moi is “a good place to start.”
He explained Black Americans would feel like [they] did a tour of West Africa when it comes to food, adding that his restaurant is so much more than Gambian food, offering Nigerian and Liberian fare, among others.
However, a visit to Moi Moi is not just about the food, as the music adds to the overall experience. The chef and entrepreneur touted his curated playlist of Afrobeats featuring renowned artists such as Wizkid, Burna Boy and the artist commonly referred to as the Afrobeats king, Davido.
Using music to unite people, Davido has been fervent in his cultural exchange and unity efforts. He launched the “Are We African Yet?” festival in Nov. 2023 to celebrate culture and unity. He also works to highlight African designers and for the world to understand Africa beyond the impoverished portrayal often captured in media.
Alongside Davido’s cultural exchange efforts, Cham explained he, too, aims to bring people together through food and culture. He said coming together as people is “very important,” and emphasized he wants African food to foster moments of enjoyment and cultural exchange.
His next dream is to get a visit from President Joe Biden at a time when the administration aims to increase “diaspora engagement.”
Tapping Into West African Culture Through the Menu and Fare
Moi Moi serves jollof rice, a hotly discussed dish among many Africans – particularly regarding what country makes the best. Cham didn’t hesitate to deliberate on its origin and whose rice comes in at number one.
“Senegal,” Cham declared, has the best iteration of jollof rice.
“The dish originated from Senegal. Its original name is called Thieboudienne,” he told The Informer, explaining It’s a traditional dish from the Sahel area of West Africa.
The restaurant’s menu includes a brief history of the origin of some dishes.
Further, Moi Moi’s menu intentionally highlights main attractions in Africa, by titling drinks after them, such as the beverage “Banjul,” named after the capital city of Gambia.
“[There’s the] ‘Victoria Island Mule,’ that’s a very popular island in Nigeria. So, you see, I’m touching everybody from everywhere and bringing them together,” he told The Informer.
Moi Moi, Cham emphasized, offers a dining opportunity for African Americans to tap into their roots. For instance, many people visit and order suya, a popular beef dish across West Africa. Moi Moi’s suya is a spiked New York strip steak with Bermuda onions and pepper sauce.
“[There’s] shrimp and grits and chicken wings,” the chef said, “but when they sit down they look and say ‘I want to try this suya,’ now they are touching base.”
Source: Washington Informer