September 27, 2022


Cooking Is My World

Culinary adventurers aim to build bridges during Black History Month

6 min read

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You might describe Malvin Wright as a culinary adventurer.

Grubs cooked on a fire? Why not?

Raw caribou or seal? Of course.

Now he and his Nigerian-born wife, Maryam, owners of Yaya’s Kitchen — a supper club and pop-up eatery at 630 Dundas St., just east of Adelaide Street — are inviting Londoners to share his adventurous spirit and indulge in the African Food Festival Feb. 19.

It’s part of the month-long Black History Month celebration that continues until Feb. 27.

Wright was born in Toronto but worked in several African countries for a dozen years before returning to Canada with Maryam, daughter of his Nigerian boss, and their two children. The couple lived in Nunavut for five years before coming to London in 2018, where two more children were born.

Along the way, Wright never hesitated to try the local cuisine.

“I’m that guy who gets lost or kidnapped,” said Wright with a chuckle.

“I travelled on regular buses with the locals and I ate the street food. If there were more people than flies, it was good to go. I tried everything from the local moonshine all the way to grubs being thrown into a fire. And I suffered from typhoid and dysentery. But I want to eat what the locals eat wherever I go.”


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The ancient grain, fonio, here made into a breakfast porridge and garnished with dried fruits, seeds, nuts and a sweetener, is a staple across Africa and is among the offerings of Yaya’s Kitchen, a supper club and take-out eatery on Dundas Street, to celebrate Black History Month. (Joe Belanger/The London Free Press)

The African Food Festival has sold out. The menu (viewed and ordered online at includes dishes from a variety of African countries, the Caribbean and even the southern U.S., such as yassa chicken from Senegal, suya beef and masa (rice cake) from the Sahel (a semi-arid region of west and north-central Africa extending from Senegal east to Sudan), the African staples fonio (a delicious ancient grain, especially for breakfast) and fufu (a doughy ball made with cassava flour) with vegetable stew, and desserts like salara, a sweet bread and coconut roll of Guyanese origin and the African doughnut called mandazi.

“Many of these dishes are ancient recipes and so many of the cultures are built around food — eating together out of one bowl or one plate,” said Wright, who added Yaya’s will now open every Saturday beginning this week for takeout orders.

Maryam, who learned to cook in her mother’s kitchen and helped raise her three younger siblings when her mother went to work, said African cuisine varies widely from country to country, especially the spice mixes.

“In West Africa and parts of the east, the food tends to be hot and spicy, whereas in the south, the food is spicy, but not as hot,” said Maryam, who described her travels, including the time in Nunavut, as an “amazing journey.”

“I got to live (in Nunavut) where the sun never sets (in summer) and where it never rises (in winter) and the people at home in Nigeria just don’t understand.”


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In Africa, Wright worked as a project manager for various aid agencies (Oxfam, UNICEF and the Canadian International Development Agency) for more than a dozen years after studying international development at Trent University and culinary arts at George Brown College. He’s of Guyanese descent and has lived in countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya and Togo.

In Nunavut, Malvin managed a public health strategy in Baker Lake, while Maryam, an urban planner, worked in the community’s planning department. Here, Malvin works for the Central Community Health Centre in St. Thomas as director of health services and community outreach and Maryam runs Yaya’s and takes care of the children, aged one, two, seven and 11.

Wright said part of the decision to open Yaya’s Kitchen as a supper club was to bridge the cultural divide between the African diaspora and other Londoners, bringing them together over food, often with a speaker from the country whose food is featured. The menu constantly changes.

“Everywhere (the African diaspora) have been as a people, that’s the food we bring to this space,” Wright said. “And the people who come here seem to love the fact they can’t choose what they eat.”

Wright said it’s important for people, especially African diaspora, to celebrate Black History Month.

“The focus is on bringing people together, which I think we should do all the time,” he said.

“For me, it’s about remembering and just showing reverence. I’ve always been taught that I’m here because of someone else’s sacrifice. So it should be a time to reflect. I am the answer to an ancestral prayer for freedom. We still have to fulfil those dreams and aspirations.”


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Fonio Porridge

1/2 cup (125 ml) fonio (available at Bulk Barn; most African, Caribbean food stores)

2-1/2 cups (625 ml) water

1 small stick of cinnamon

3 pieces of cloves

2 pieces of cardamom

1 tin coconut milk or 2 cups (500 ml) regular milk.


  1. Wash fonio in a strainer.
  2. In a pot, bring the water and spices (best kept wrapped in cheesecloth) to a boil, reduce heat to medium, add fonio and stir. Cover the pot with a lid but leave it partly open to prevent it from spilling over. Let cook for five to seven minutes and let fonio thicken.
  3. Add coconut milk or regular milk and cook for two to three minutes more and remove from heat. Remove spices.
  4. Add a sweetener, sugar or honey, and, if desired, a little milk or cream on top with some dried fruit and/or nuts. Enjoy.


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