Tucked away in a Lower Roxbury building called Mr. G’s Plaza is a West African restaurant called Bintimani. Owned and operated by wife-and-husband duo Baindu and Sahr Josiah-Faeduwor, Bintimani serves a menu made up of staples from the couple’s native Sierra Leone — cassava in the form of foofoo, spicy okra sauce, and a dark green stew made of mallow-leaves called crain crain — and other dishes inspired by the rest of West Africa.
The Josiah-Faeduwors are making the most of their modest digs. The kitchen is small and sparse, and there’s only enough space in the dining room for eight patrons. Sahr says the size of the dining room doesn’t matter because the restaurant’s main business is takeout.
“A lot of people depend on us,” he explains. “Some people come in and order enough food for a week. Mostly the sauces, because anyone can make rice.”
Baindu and Sahr met in 2006. As Sahr tells it, he stopped by his sister and brother-in-law’s house one day to say hello, and Baindu — his brother-in-law’s sister — was visiting as well. They hit it off, and a year later they were married.
Though Baindu has always had a knack for cooking, opening a restaurant was never part of the plan. Aside from some impromptu barbecues the Josiah-Faeduwors used to throw with their friends and neighbors in Roxbury, Baindu’s cooking was mostly confined to the home kitchen. But those barbecues planted a seed, and it wasn’t long before those friends and neighbors suggested that Baindu and Sahr open their own restaurant.
“Someone told us Mr. G’s had a kitchen that wasn’t being used, so we asked the owner and began subletting it,” says Sahr.
“My family was always saying, ‘You’re such a good cook, you should open a restaurant!’” says Baindu.
In 2009, the Josiah-Faeduwors did just that, bringing their version of Sierra Leonean and West African food to Lower Roxbury. Sahr and Baindu wanted their customers to come in and say, “This tastes just like my mother’s cooking.”
“There was no food from Sierra Leone when I was living in Washington, D.C., from 1974 to 1985,” says Sahr. “I went more than 10 years without eating my own food. Bintimani is a place for people to come and meet and eat their food.”
And while Bintimani specializes in West African cuisine, the Josiah-Faeduwors take pride in feeding people from all backgrounds.
“Everyone loves our food,” says Sahr. “West African, East Afrcan, North African, Haitian, Asian, American, Mexican, you name it — everyone comes here to eat.”
I went to Bintimani for lunch last Friday and asked if Baindu would cook me her favorite dishes. The dining room walls were decorated with images of Barack Obama and paintings made by Sahr’s cousin in Sierra Leone. The tablecloths were paper and wished their eaters “Bon Appétit!” After a few minutes, Sahr and Baindu dropped three plates at my table — fried whole tilapia with white rice, spicy okra sauce, and crain crain.
“Crain crain is a little slimy,” warned Sahr. And he demurred as Baindu delivered the fried whole tilapia: “I hope this is okay. Some people don’t know how to deal with the bones, but we chew on everything.”
I followed Baindu and Sahr’s lead and chewed on everything, and I dressed the white rice with okra sauce and crain crain. After I finished, Sahr approached me with a smile.
“Americans love the crain crain, especially with the foofoo.”
Sahr said he and Baindu would like to have a bigger, more well-equipped kitchen one day where they’re capable of doing more — and that they’d perhaps even like to expand in some way — but their space in Mr. G’s Plaza is working for now.
“This is an ideal location,” says Sahr. “This is a hub.”
Update: Bintimani opened in 2009. This story previously stated that Bintimani opened in 2014 and has been updated to reflect the correct information. This story previously stated that Bintimani’s owners’ surname is Josiah, while it is Josiah-Faeduwor. It has been updated with the correct information.