Saturday, April 21, 2007

Makola Markets (and more) in Chicago

I recently returned from Chicago, where Gloria Mensah and I presented, as promised, an enthusiastically received talk and tasting session (gari foto and chicken groundnut stew with rice, shown below) at the IACP (Intl. Assoc. of Culinary Professionals) meetings. Chicago's large Ghanaian community sponsors an annual cultural festival every year that is said to be the largest of its kind in North America. One of the surprise hits of our talk was our display and passing comments on the spice known as melegueta peppers (Grains of Paradise), which apparently is becoming trendy these days, though Moroccan cooks may know of the seeds as an ingredient in some ras el hanout combinations. (I'll write more about them later.) For now, here are a few photos: the 2 Makola Markets we visited (a few blocks apart) to pick up some true Ghanaian yam, some cassava, cocoyam, sweet potatoes, zomi oil, dried shrimp and various African seasonings (added to some I brought from Ghana, like dried orka and agushi and dawadawa seeds, and a variety of Maggi cubes (shito, dawadawa, shrimp). The proprieter of Chicago's Makola African Markets, which appear to cater especially to Ghanaians and Nigerians, is Nana Adu-Gyamfi, pictured on the right.

Gloria and fellow IACP attender Gisele Perez enjoying fish Friday night at Yassa, where the food was great, but we suffered from not having a car and ended up paying more for our transportation than dinner. Plus, the crowd there overwhelmed their staff and though service was pleasant it was quite slow. (To be picky, I was disappointed they were out of baobab juice.)

On Saturday Gloria and I went to observe the chefs prepare our recipes for our tasting at the conference hotel. I realized once again that chefs unfamiliar with African ingredients, be it gari or tinned corned beef or palm oil, need firm guidance when confronted with something for which they have no context. They had purchased pink pickled ginger (just in case that's what we meant), minced regular corned beef rather than canned, and gotten regular peanut butter rather than natural style we requested. The simple tastings (garifoto on the left; groundnut stew on the right) are pictured below.

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