By Ellen Spitaleri
The word “akadi” means tasty in Bambara, a native language in West Africa’s Cote D’Ivoire, where Fatou Ouattara grew up — that is why she chose it for the name of her restaurant that opened in May at 1001 SE Division St.
“Food has always been a part of me; I grew up cooking with my sisters, my mom and grandmas and also with some of my aunts when I visited other part of the country,” she said. “In a typical west African home, girls are expected to know how to cook. So I remember them showing me very early on how to make the essential recipes like attieke and fish or peanut butter stews,” Ouattara added.
Attieke is the national dish of West Africa she said, noting that it consists of fermented cassava couscous served with a relished tomatoes/onion mix and a choice of either chicken or fish.
When Ouattara left home to come to Portland to attend Portland State University, she realized that she missed West African food, so she started cooking in her dorm and inviting friends to try her cuisine. One of those friends was George Faux who not only fell in love with Ouattara’s cooking, but with her as well, and now the two are married.
After trying her food several times, her friends encouraged her to open a restaurant. So in 2017 Ouattara opened her first Akadi on NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It was forced to close in 2020, due to pandemic restrictions
Then, in 2021, the TV show “Top Chef” came calling and everything changed. Top Chef Portland scouts came to the restaurant after two-time Top Chef contestant and Portland restaurateur Gregory Gourdet recommended Ouattara’s food be featured.
“They tried the food and discussed doing a segment on us, which was very exciting and also scary,” Ouattara said.
During the filming of the show, she served popular menu items such as attieke fish, jollof rice, beef suya, some stews and fufu, a dish made with cassava, yams or plantains that have been boiled, pounded and rounded into balls. Puff puff, small, sweet donuts, were served for dessert.
Although the restaurant was closed, the show boosted sales of their Akadi Sauce. Customers had been asking for the popular sauce and Ouattara was able to get it on the shelves at New Seasons Market and Green Zebra groceries.
“We got a lot of promotion from that show. Many people saved the name of our restaurant to try when we reopened and we are still reaping the benefits of being featured,” Ouattara said.
She noted that there is a lot to like about the new Akadi on SE Division St. “I love the wood framing and the ceiling with all the plants; it feels very homey. I love the kitchen and the huge area to prep all the food we serve,” Ouattara said. “I love that there is a bathroom for all my customers and my employees; it is truly an upgrade from the old one and I couldn’t be happier.”
She and her husband divide the major tasks in the day-to-day running of the restaurant, with Faux doing all the background work and Ouattara running the kitchen and supervising the kitchen staff.
She has a few recommendations for diners who have never experienced West African food. “A jollof rice meal is always a good place to start because we have the carbs, the veggies and the proteins all in one plate,” Ouattara said, adding that the West African favorite is made from red rice cooked in a flavorful tomato stew served with coleslaw and choice of chicken or fish.
Fufu and peanut butter stew are popular dishes, she said, adding that the stew is made with creamy peanut butter cooked with stewed tomatoes, veggies and African spices. It is served with a choice of proteins, including goat, seafood, beef or chicken. Sides include a choice of rice or fufu.
Ouattara hopes people will be patient when coming to the restaurant, as they are understaffed right now and are doing everything they can to fix that issue. Restaurant hours are Wednesday-Sunday, 5-10 pm.
1001 SE Division St.,
Attieke with fish photo by Akadi