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Culture Watch: An ode to Serge and Congolese home cooking

Ever wonder what Serge Ibaka eats? Look no further, but don’t read this on an empty stomach.

Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Serge Ibaka is a beautiful man.

He speaks four languages. He holds babies. His style is one of, if not, the best in the entire league. His body looks like it was sculpted by the Gods themselves.

But this article is not a ruse to get him to go on a date with me. No sir, no ma’am. This article is about Ibaka’s ability to find happiness in the little things. In the comforts of home, in routine, in food. (Although this is something we have in common so he probably should go on a date with me.)

Before every game, Serge Ibaka eats three pieces of fruit: an apple, an orange, and a banana. He doesn’t falter or stray from his diet. He doesn’t drive to McDonalds and eat all the fries on the way home, rejoicing when he finds more in the bottom of the bag. His routine, he says, is what keeps him mentally ready for each game.

In spite of his dedication to his regime, Ibaka does allow himself to indulge on nights when there are no basketball games to be played the next day, or late on a Friday night. He doesn’t drive to Krispy Kreme and order a dozen glazed donuts, and another dozen assorted to make sure he doesn’t miss out. Instead, he heads out for Chinese food. Not chicken balls, or egg rolls, but real Chinese food.

In the most recent episode of the Toronto Raptors YouTube series The Spot, Serge takes us to Rol San restaurant right in Toronto. While he doesn’t go for the all day dim sum, which is served until 2:00 in the morning, he does have a preferred order, and the chefs and owners know exactly what it will be every time he visits. Serge Ibaka is a fan of the fried rice.

In our last post featuring an instalment of The Spot, Norman Powell took us to his favourite restaurant in Westwood, California, also for fried rice, and we taught you how to make it! Is this a Raptors preference, or is the NBA secretly made up of a group of large men with specific preferences of how and where to eat fried rice? It wouldn’t be surprising. Last year we learned that the entire league are wholeheartedly addicted to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Serge Ibaka’s go-to may be fried rice at Rol San, but when you’re 6’10” and your looks can stop traffic, going out to eat is not always an option. Sure, there’s UberEats and SkipTheDishes, but even these options are limited when it comes to cravings and choices. As luck would have it, though, Serge’s friend and former Raptor, Bismack Biyombo learned early during his time in Toronto that there is always a loophole, if you’re willing to pay the price.

The life of an athlete is an unpredictable one. At each trade deadline or free agency, it is never certain that you will be on the same team, or even in the same country, the next day. Serge Ibaka has lived in four different countries: The Republic of Congo, Spain, The United States of America, and now Canada. When he’s homesick, his job does not allow him to simply up and leave. Instead, he finds contentment in home cooking, and Bismack Biyombo found a way to overcome this yearning, and he shared it with Serge.

In 2015 when Biz signed with the Toronto Raptors he met Yvette, the owner of Ma Yve Grill in Pickering, Ontario. Yvette prepared Congolese meals for Bismack during his year in Toronto, but when he signed with the Orlando Magic in 2016, he would leave her cooking behind. The stars aligned, however, as Biyombo and Ibaka, both born in The Congo, would become teammates until Ibaka was traded to the Toronto Raptors for Terrence Ross and a future first round pick.

One of the first things Serge did when arriving in Toronto was call Bismack with a simple request: point him to the best Congolese food in Toronto. Biyombo gave Ibaka Yvette’s phone number, and she has been making the trek from Pickering to downtown Toronto to feed the power forward ever since.

Even with all the money in the world, Serge’s eyes still light up when Yvette delivers him his favourite dish of fumbwa, a Congolese spinach stew. Serge’s life in the Congo was not always positive, but most of his most cherished memories are brought to mind while eating fumbwa. Fumbwa is not the only dish Yvette brings to Serge, though. She arrives with enough food to feed an entire army, including fried plantains, beignets, callaloo, and kwanga.

To be perfectly honest, I have never tried Congolese food. I didn’t even know what it looked like until Vice Sports created this video. But now, I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe it’s the pile of beignets, or maybe it’s the obvious love that Yvette puts into her cooking.

Maybe it’s the smile it brings to Serge’s face, and the happiness that washes over him as he eats it, but if my fellow Raptors HQ blog boys watch this video and feel the same way, we should probably hold our next meeting here. I’m sure Yvette wouldn’t mind putting the game on.