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Hampshire restaurant on Safari to both traditional American and African fare

Muhamadou Tunakarbusiness owner manager newly opened Safari Oasis Restaurant Hampshire cooks up dish restaurant kitchen. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times

Muhamadou Tunakara, business owner and manager of the newly opened Safari Oasis Restaurant in Hampshire, cooks up a dish in the restaurant kitchen. | Denise Moran for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 1, 2013 7:14AM

HAMPSHIRE — Truck stops traditionally have been places where both truckers and travelers can stop to relax and refuel their vehicles and themselves before they resume their journey.

Safari Oasis, a new restaurant at the Hampshire truck stop at I-90 and Route 20, is offering a menu of both hometown American dishes and exotic African cuisine that should please the palates of local area residents as well as travelers from near and far.

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, with hours from 7 a.m. to midnight.

The Hampshire Area Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the restaurant’s grand opening this past weekend. The chamber welcomed Ohana Dollar Store along State Street in Hampshire earlier this month.

“We are thrilled to welcome another business to Hampshire,” said Bonnie Hanson, the chamber’s executive director. “I want this trend to continue.”

Safari Oasis owner and manager Muhamadou Tunakara has been involved in the food business all of his life. Although he knows how to prepare such American favorites as hamburgers after working for Wendy’s Restaurant for 11 years in New York and Wisconsin, he also was taught how to cook African dishes by his grandmother, Makada.

Tunakara originally is from Gambia in West Africa. He has lived in the United States since 1988 and has four grown children.

He owned and operated a restaurant in Rockford that he closed about a month ago. He said the facility was too small and could only seat 15 to 20 people. Safari Oasis in Hampshire can seat 110 customers.

On the menu

Safari Oasis menu items include benachin (fried rice with a vegetable sauce served over chicken, beef or fish); domada (cassava leaf stew with a peanut butter sauce served over chicken, beef or fish); yassa (chicken, beef or fish fried in stew with vegetables and onions); suppa (okra stew with beef or chicken); chou (fried stew with beef, chicken or fish); fufu (cooked plantain and coco yam cassava dough served with vegetables and peanut or palm nut soup with chicken, beef, lamb or fish), and jerk chicken (served with rice and peas and cooked in coconut milk).

“Domada is one of the most popular dishes in West Africa,” said Tunakara. “Favorite ingredients used in African cooking include garlic, okra, baby spinach and cassava.”

Hometown-style food on the Safari Oasis menu includes single and double cheeseburgers, fish sandwiches, Philly cheesesteak, grilled turkey sandwiches, veggie sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, fried or rotisserie chicken, chicken nuggets, fried shrimp and chicken sandwiches that can be either grilled or spicy.

There also is an all-you-can-eat Friday fish fry; chicken, beef or lamb kabobs; tilapia; and shawarma chicken or beef. All meals are served with pita bread, rice or couscous. By using half beef and half lamb, Tunakara cooks a burger that is juicier than a typical burger.

Safari Oasis is housed in the same building that was known as Arrowhead Restaurant for 20 years. While the collection of arrowheads is no longer on display, the familiar wooden Native American statue still greets customers near the entrance.

Arshdeep Khaira is the owner and manager of the adjoining Citgo gasoline station/convenience center business.

Good reviews

Omar Paracha bought the former Arrowhead property that includes the restaurant building, the gasoline service station/convenience store, and mechanics shop. He has been working to improve the site.

“We remodeled the parking lot, gasoline pumps and canopy,” Paracha said. “We have a new sign board. There will be LED lights both inside and outside. As a grand opening special, we are giving 10 cents off per gallon of diesel fuel that truckers can apply toward a meal at Safari Oasis Restaurant.”

During the restaurant’s grand opening, village residents and officials were treated to samples of the restaurant’s menu items.

“I tried benachin,” said Hampshire resident Barbara Brust. “The restaurant has a culturally different menu that’s very good. We should always be open to trying something different.”

Village Clerk Linda Vasquez also sampled benachin.

“I liked it,” Vasquez said. “It was light, spicy and not too hot.”

“I’m glad to have a new restaurant in the village,” said Diana Chartier, chamber president. “The food is great.”

More information is available from the Safari Oasis at 19N479 Route 20, Hampshire; 608-695-8514.

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