Friday, 9 March 2012

The Taste of Ghana in London

Eating soul food in London is a unique connection with the motherland that cannot be broken. Indigenous food – or ‘home chow’ – is a big deal. Thankfully, nestling among the various boroughs of London is a proliferation of African markets from Dalston to Peckham, Tottenham to Leytonstone, Harlesden to Brixton and beyond that caters for this specific need. You are sure to find a tuber of yam, the flavoursome small green peppers (kpakpo shito), garden eggs, ‘koko’ (porridge) powder, or the ubiquitous gari, which surely, must be a staple in every Ghanaian home and much more. Of course, Fufu Flour abounds in all its varieties: cocoyam, plantain, yam. Interestingly supermarket giants like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and the Corner Shops now carry Fufu Flour. Indeed, authentic Ghanaian food is often just a short bus ride away.

In spite of this replication, you cannot help the nostalgia of fresh ‘kpakpo shito’ in your carrier bag which testifies to your ace bargaining skills at Makola Market in Accra’s Central Business District, or the bunch of ‘apim’  (small green plantains) from Kumasi Central Market amidst the peculiar smells and sounds! The market mammies outdo each other, singing catchy ditties with cries of, ‘M’awuraba hwe tomatoes kamakama bi!’ (‘Look at these fresh-looking tomatoes, my lady!). Music blares from loud speakers all around you, as an Evangelist preaches the message of salvation. Above the din, you mentally calculate how much money you have left and keep an eye on your purse, whilst at the same time, a dexterous carrier bag seller taps you for patronage. Meanwhile, you have to engage in some nimble footwork as a sour-faced porter barks a harsh ‘agoo ei!’ (Excuse me!) only seconds before whizzing past with a wheelbarrow laden with food products, narrowly missing your foot! The sheer bustle sometimes makes the Ghana market experience a tale of bemusement.

With the accent on healthy eating, many people are upping their intake of greens, vegetables and fruits. Innovatively, many Ghanaian families resident in the UK give indigenous food a foreign twist to enhance their diet – a side plate of steamed sprouts and mixed peppers with grated carrots tossed in olive oil and basil, for example, does not look out of place next to a ball of kenkey and grilled fish. Nor is using spinach as an alternative to ‘kontomire’ one to cause worry. It is a worthy substitution like potato powder and farina for making fufu before the near authentic latter day saints we now have on the market. At least it spares the pounding!

For the average person in search of culinary delights from Ghana, it is not a big deal to make a meal about. Rest assured, the London food scene is deliciously saturated with Ghanaian restaurants ready to salivate and titillate your taste buds! Efie ne fie – to wit, there is no place like home. 

You can take the girl out of Ghana...
Take the Sankofa Restaurant in Norbury, south London, for example. Established in 2001, the owner, Baba, (no surname necessary here, sir. Think Pele or Madonna) prides himself on serving ‘African food in general and Ghanaian food in particular.’ The emphasis is on ‘quality, affordability and customer service.’ It is a winning combination that keeps attracting patrons, both old and new, back to this intimate restaurant where Baba himself is often found bustling on the restaurant floor serving and tickling customers with his infectious laughter and camaraderie. In this homey set-up, Baba suggests you try the fried yam with ‘akonfem’ (guinea fowl) or the ‘banku’ and grilled tilapia from a menu that is bursting with other local delicacies. ‘Nkatibe’ with ‘omo tuo’, anyone? (Palm/peanut butter soup and rice balls)

A selection of dishes from the kitchen at  Sankofa Restaurant
On the other side of town, Aunty Bertha serves a festive dish at Kenkey House, Viva Afrik. Located on High Road Leytonstone, the fine art of kenkey preparation has been literally imported from Bukom in Accra and perfected in the heart of London! (Kenkey, made from fermented corn dough and usually wrapped in corn leaves, is a versatile dish that can be eaten as the authentic savoury with freshly ground/fried pepper and fish, soup/stew, OR mashed and diluted with water, sugar and milk to taste.) At Kenkey House, a selection of fish is distractingly, mouth-wateringly, arranged, such that you struggle to speak coherently when placing your order. If you are met with a knowing smile from the attendant behind the counter, just smile back, knowing you are in good hands. Here at last, you have found a place where it is perfectly alright to smell something fishy.  Oh, and the good news is Viva Kenkey has a really long shelf life and also maintains its taste. So just ask for a bottle of the delicacy ‘shito’ (fried pepper sauce with fish and shrimps), the perfect accompaniment to hot kenkey and you are in business.

When it comes to the Gold Coast Bar and Restaurant in South Norwood, you are truly spoilt for choice. This restaurant dishes sumptuous meals to an eclectic clientele from all over the UK. Since its inception in 2004, William Quagraine, the man behind the hotspot, has been spicing up the taste buds not only with traditional West African dishes, but also with the unique Original Chef’s Special Chilli Sauce made from scotch bonnet peppers and kpakpo shito seasoned with herbs and spices. Throw in the popular beer garden, an impressive selection of music from the African continent and giant screens which make it the place to watch that all-important football match, and you have a memorable experience: authentic Ghanaian food and hospitality at this self-styled ‘gastropub with an Afro twist’ at the heart of the multicultural south of the city!

Sweet Handz Restaurant caters for the north London crowd from its base in Holloway N7. Patrons of this restaurant on two floors must definitely sample the Sweet Handz platter, the house starter which comes highly recommended. The platter includes kelewele (fried ripe plantain) and khebabs, and is designed to whet your appetite for things to come from the main courses, such as fried yam served with grilled tilapia.

London is famed for its cosmopolitan mix, and this is reflected in the representation of restaurants and exotic groceries from every corner of the world. Ghanaian foodies have definitely made the cut.

Now that’s some food for thought. Worth chewing over, don’t you agree?

This feature first appeared in the 2012 Edition of the Ghanalinks Directory, and is re-posted here with permission from the publishers.


Mz A said...

now you've made me hungry, thank God for the pot of abenkwan my mum made before going out

Davida said...

Eish, sounds like there's mean business going down in the kitchen oo :-)

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