After moving to Johnson County from West Africa, a Cameroonian-American couple wants to share a piece of home with them: Plates full of homemade dishes straight from family cookbooks.
Stella Musongong and Neba Ngwa, a Lenexa couple who co-own African Dream Cuisine, are making monthly pop-up appearances at the Lenexa Public Market. Their first one was earlier this month, and they plan to return on the second weekend of every month, Friday through Sunday, to the kitchen and dining area above the market.
“What we prepare is already food that is universal, like rice, potatoes, beans, chicken, we’ll have vegetables like cabbage, spinach and plantains — stuff you can find in Walmart,” Ngwa said. “But the main difference is how it’s being prepared.”
The couple uses cooking tricks from their family, and some family members are helping out with the cooking as well. Nearly all of the dishes are stovetop recipes that incorporate a variety of meats, vegetables, roots, grains and leaf spices, including kangkang, a West African blend of curry, paprika and other spices.
The couple brought over family recipes from Cameroon and use a variety of West African seasonings in their dishes. They previously had to order these seasonings before West African markets opened up in the area and began selling them.
In fact, their roots are deeply tied to home cooking; when Ngwa proposed to Musongong, he had delivered a package of West African spices to her and hidden the engagement ring inside the package.
“The exciting thing is that we got it started,” Ngwa said of their new business. “It’s something we’ve been planning, talking about it for like ever that we’re going to do it.”
Both of them have careers and they have a son together; their busy lives combined with the challenges to start a restaurant have slowed the process. So when the Lenexa Public Market stepped in to offer a pop-up space for them to begin cooking and serving dishes, they were thrilled.
“We finally got this opportunity to at least bring the concept to life,” Ngwa said. “We really can’t thank them enough because they gave us everything to make us succeed and to get it going, keep the ball rolling from here.”
Their true gem on the menu is the puff puff, a fried dough made with flour, sugar and yeast. It’s particularly special for the couple because they want to honor the many women back home who make a living off of frying and selling puff puffs, using the revenue to give their children bright futures in higher education and professional careers.
“We pay a lot of respect to it because back in Africa, it’s one of those things that empower women, our mothers,” Ngwa said. “It’s about the beauty of the things our mothers do, what they did for us, just to support us. We do it with a lot of pride because we know the history behind it and how it has helped a lot of families back home.”
They also plan to introduce more recipes in the future, all with the goal in mind to honor their guests, create a gathering space around their food and “ use our food to tell the African story.”
“We want to relate the positivity of our culture, our values, where we come from,” Ngwa said. “You rarely see any African restaurant, especially in the mainstream America, so that was one of our main focuses, just to bring it to the mainstream.”
“We want to hang onto it and be able to show a little bit, not only to the American people but to the world,” Musongong added.
The next pop-up date for African Dream Cuisine is July 12 from noon to 9 p.m. on the second floor of the Lenexa Public Market, 8750 Penrose Lane.