Monday, June 18, 2007

Tanzanian Breakfast at TEDGLOBAL

That first morning at TEDGLOBAL I went to breakfast at the lovely Serena Mountain Village resort where I was booked for the 4 days of the conference. Several safari tour groups stayed there during the same time. The breakfast buffet was long and plentiful, filled with fresh tropical fruits, cold cereal and granola, croissants, breads and pastries, oatmeal, and fruit juices. Pots of hot coffee and tea were brought to the tables.

I respectfully requested to speak to the sous chef, Alex Babu. When he came from the kitchen, I explained that this was my first visit to Tanzania, and how could I get a traditional Tanzanian breakfast. He looked puzzled, and asked what I meant. “I want to eat what you eat for breakfast,” I explained. His face brightened and he promised to do so the next morning. That day I was treated to the best breakfast I had at the conference: a mild, creamy sorghum porridge eaten with fresh whole-milk yoghurt and sugar, and in place of toast, freshly cooked root vegetables: ripe plantain spears, chunks of a wonderful white sweet potato, and what we call cocoyam (taro) in Ghana.

I suggested that perhaps they could try serving the porridge sometimes alongside the standard western fare. The following day I noticed sorghum porridge had replaced the oatmeal. It also appeared, alas, that I was the first person to help myself to it. However, later at the conference, an American woman who had overheard my conversation with Alex the day before, came up and thanked me for asking them to serve the porridge, which she had tried and found excellent.

En route to the conference, I spent a few days in Ghana with a Ghanaian friend who promptly offered me corn flakes, bread and tea my first morning at her home. When I asked about koko (millet/corn porridge), and koose (fried cowpea fritters), she promptly honored my request. The fresh millet porridge with a stunning bite of ginger, sugar, cloves and hwentia, mixed with a little evaporated milk, along with the satisfying koose (a.k.a. accra, akara, akla, bean balls, kosai, kose, and koosé) was my favorite breakfast from that trip. The next day I had a slightly fermented corn version that was also delightful. Served alongside the wonderful mangos in season (and I prefer the traditional small juicy yellow ones), I had to stop myself from doing what my family calls "the happy dance."

It still baffles me why Africans so often replace their hearty, tasty, and healthy traditional breakfast meals with “modern, western” choices. And it saddens me to find them catering to tourists with “continental” breakfasts when they have so much more to offer to non-Africans.

I’ll continue making observations from the conference (which, despite the triteness and inadequacy of the words), was truly astounding with its potential to empower people to change lives. I was amazed and overwhelmed to find such support and enthusiasm for my campaign to restore to the continent a proper respect for and appreciation of its culinary heritage and contributions. I owe Emeka Okafor and the sponsors of the TED fellowships a great debt I’ll do my best to repay.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Kelewele: My favorite Ghanaian Snack

I'm in the midst of packing to spend a year in Brazil and Ghana but just caught sight of a bag of Nina International's "All Natural UDA Hwentia," sitting on my desk. It made me wish for some fresh kelewele, one of my all-time favorite snack foods from Ghana. Western cookbooks generally describe kelewele as something like "spicy fried plantain cubes," but that is like calling a sunset "beautiful." All the recipes I've seen in Western cookbooks are anemic versions of the best kelewele as it's prepared in Ghana. First of all, Western versions only call for salt, ginger, and dried red pepper, but in Ghana in addition to grinding fresh ginger and onion, they also commonly pound and add sekoni (aniseed), hwentia (a kind of long black stick I've yet to name botanically. Can anyone help me out?), and cloves. The plantain should be very ripe and sweet, and nicely coated with the mixture before it is deep-fried. The plantain is generally cut on a diagonal rather than into a straight cube. Kelewele tastes superb accompanied with dry roasted peanuts. The sweet, spicy, and chewy plantain is a perfect counter to the mild crunchy/creamy flavor and texture of the peanuts. Both go well with an ice cold beer or drink like ginger beer or bissap. Nina International distributes many West African foods through its office in Maryland (PO Box 6566, Hyatsville, MD 20789). More information on suppliers is available at African Food Stores
Rest assured, Barbara Baeta and I will include an authentic recipe for gourmet kelewele in our upcoming book.

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