The food of sub-Saharan Africa and sub-Saharan Africa in general for that matter, has long been uncharted territory for me. Not that I’d ever sneered at the idea of eating fufu and searing hot peanut soup with my bare hands (they’ve already developed thick callouses from the innumerable Indian curries, chapattis and rice I’ve eaten anyway), I’d just never really found an opportune moment to do so here in the UK.
Many of the West African eateries back home in London tend to double up as community hubs for the sizeable Ghanaian and Nigerian populations you find, particularly in places like Hornsey and Tottenham, so entering one of these busy establishments would make me seem like a bit of an interloper in their affairs– something I wasn’t entirely comfortable with and the sort of nervous situation hardly conducive towards experiencing, let alone digesting a good meal. Maybe this was all in my imagination, but I knew one thing – my first taste of the rich, time-honoured cuisine of Ghana in particular (a cuisine popularized in foodie circles by Spinach & Agushi, a successful street food chain based in London’s trendiest neighbourhoods), had been long overdue.
While I’d casually strolling along multicultural Alfreton Road among the various Turkish convenience shops, Caribbean bakeries and Kurdish tea houses, I came across a utilitarian, white tile-adorned café festooned with Ghanaian flags and Fulani-style fabrics. It had barely passed noon, the place was empty, but looked oddly inviting and the small menu promised a generic but entirely authentic selection of Ghanaian dishes for budget prices.
With a slightly devil-may-care attitude, I entered A Taste of Africa and was promptly greeted by a smiling, gregarious waiter keen to find out what had brought me here and to gauge my knowledge of Ghanaian cuisine. To my credit, I was actually able to reference several key features of the cuisine (peanut, or groundnut soup, jollof rice, fried plantains and tilapia, as well as the propensity for Ghanaian men to down unholy amounts of palm wine). Also impressed that I knew his hometown of Kumasi to be the second city of Ghana, the waiter (who was also head chef that day) promised to whip up a delicious feast of fresh sea bream, banku (a fermented cassava dough, similar in consistency to fufu) and a selection of fiery red peppers. By this time, my taste buds were positively tingling with anticipation.
While waiting for my meal, I was accompanied in the small seating area by a Ghanaian mother and her adorable little children, all glued to the huge plasma screen showing indigenous TV from back home (in this case, a hammy melodrama involving a heady mix of black magic, internet scams and sordid love affairs – not exactly child-friendly material, but hey, at least the kids were settled).
As soon as my food arrived, I felt my stomach rumble, which I knew to be a sign a good meal was to be had. Indeed the succulent white fish fried mixed with the two sweet yet fiery hot sauces was near-perfect, and the doughy, starch-filled texture of the banku equally delightful. By this time, the lady next to me had also received her food – a steaming hot bowl of meat stew (possibly goat) with a two round balls of omo tuo, or rice balls, floating in the middle. It smelled divine, and I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous of what she was eating.
Still, there’s always next time I guess…
Taste of Africa
160 Alfreton Road