Saturday, December 02, 2006

Advice on opening and operating an African restaurant from Berkeley, California

I just returned from my first African Studies Association conference, held in San Francisco in November, 2006, and my talk about "Asanka to Maggi Cubes: Ghanaian Cookbooks as Sources for African Food History" (the only talk on African cuisine, which is why I went!) I also had a chance to eat at 2 West African restaurants in the San Francisco Bay area: Senegalese Marco's Bissap Baobab in San Francisco, and Ghanaian Mary Dugbartey-Nudanu and her husband Duke Nudanu's Tropical Paradise in Berkeley. It was helpful to learn from Marco about his restaurant experiences and the support he receives from family, friends and community. I am especially grateful to Duke Nudanu (shown with me in the photo above; diners at Tropical Paradise are shown below) for taking time out to talk with me about insights gained in Berkeley over the past 23 months Tropical Paradise has been open. To subscribe to BETUMI podcasts, click on the itunes link at the top righthand side of the BETUMI home page, or subscribe from another podcast directory. To listen only to Mr. Nudanu's 22-minute interview, click here.

Near the end of our interview we revisit the need for an association for African food professionals. The plan is to get this organized in the next few months. Stay tuned.

African Restaurant Menus: In addition to an African cookbook collection, I have an extensive collection of African menus (collected by me, and now by family and friends on my behalf). A few recent menus, in addition to those from the restaurants above, include Mulugeta Abate's Pan Africa Market ( cafe in Seattle (I ate there and it had a nice blend of East and West African food), Yassa in Chicago (, and Blue Nile in Harrisonburg, VA ( (though this was an Ethiopian restaurant, thanks to a Togolese chef, they had a delicious groundnut/peanut stew on the menu). And my dear husband just returned from Cameroon/Cameroun with a menu from Restaurant Ristallo in Yaounde.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who can describe funkasa?

I had a request today for information on what is described as a millet pancake, probably a Hausa food. I'm not familiar with it. Can anyone help?


Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Kuli-kuli is calling me to come and buy"

Today while looking through Mother Africa's Table: A Collection of West African and African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions, compiled by Cassandra Hughes Webster for The National Council of Negro Women, Inc., in 1998 and thinking how many Ghanaian influcences found their way into that book, I came across a recipe for a version of kuli-kuli (fried peanut cakes).

I was instantly transported back to Bawku in northern Ghana, and remembered sitting in a courtyard one morning learning how to make the peanut-based snack food kuli-kuli as part of my quest to develop a recipe for yagi, or tankora, powder, the spicy dry rub for Ghanaian chichinga (kebabs).

According to Elizabeth Jackson, in her excellent 1999 cookbook, South of the Sahara: Traditional Cooking from the Lands of West Africa, yagi is a Hausa word for a mixture of spices dating back to a 14th century ruler in Kano nicknamed Yaji, "the hot-tempered one," and composed of up to seven dried, powdered spices (e.g., red pepper, ginger, salt). In Ghana it usually also includes groundnut powder and a fine cornmeal (Incidentally, I promise that when Barbara Baeta and I eventually get our regional Ghanaian cookbook out, a yagi recipe will be there, along with the tea bread and sugar bread recipes people keep asking about).

The other thing I remembered about kuli-kuli was that my host in Bawku, the gracious Dorcas Nimbo, kindly agreed to let me record her singing the popular children's song about it. To hear her, click here, or subscribe to the BETUMI podcasts (go to ITunes or another podcast directory to sign up).

I'm also grateful to Mohammed-Nadhir Ibn Muntaka for helping me refine the processing steps for kuli-kuli:
1. Making the groundnut paste, or peanut butter (called luquie in Hausa) by shelling, roasting and grinding the nuts.
2. Removing excess peanut oil by kneading the paste to make tunkusa.
3. Forming small balls and frying them again to remove more oil (though Mohammed said his mother boiled the balls for the same reason, and the oil rose to the top).
4. After deepfrying the balls, pounding them in a mortar with a pestle to make another paste, which is seasoned with salt and rolled into thinner-than-pencil ropes that are joined together to form irregular circles, and then deepfried again.
5. The final shapes are called kuli-kuli, though there are other versions, such as balls, also called by the name.

Kuli-kuli can be eaten plain as a snack, or broken and mixed into millet, or corn, or corn and millet porridges (kokoo). They are also crumbled and sprinkled onto other foods.

The couple of times I've tried making kuli-kuli, mine have disintegrated (the women in Ghana really know how to compress those balls), but I plan to keep working on perfecting the process. In the meantime, if you're lucky enough to get to Ghana or Nigeria, don't leave the kuli-kuli to the children!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Africa in Brasil (Brazil)

My husband is in Brasil/Brazil this October (2006). It turns out a number of people there never saw my pictures nor comments from my trip last year, so here they are in case you missed them, too. I still intend to pursue researching the Afro-Latin connections in Brazil and Latin America:

"I've just returned home (I wrote in 2005) from exploring Afro-Brazilian cuisine in Salvador (Bahia), Belo Horizonte and Ouro Preto (Minas Gerais), and Rio de Janeiro. The Portuguese and indigenous influences that worked their way back to Africa (such as corn and cassava and farofa-like gari) were fascinating, as were the influences going the other way (e.g., why dendê oil and coconut milk but not palm butter?). I sampled Cristina's tasty acarajé (a deep-fried cowpea paste fritter split open and filled with shrimp and a pepper sauce), reportedly "the best in Salvador," at Barraca de Cira, Praia de Itapoã. Acarajé is the descendant of West Africa's akla (a.k.a. akara, accara, kosai, koose, kose). We also had abará, a version steamed in banana leaves that has to be related to Ghana's tubaani or Nigeria's moyin-moyin or elele. I'm especially indebted to Brazilian colleagues: fellow IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) member Margarida Nogueira in Rio, Dr. Ericivaldo Veiga de Jesus, from the Catholic University of São Paulo, nutritionist Vera Fontes in Belo Horizonte, and Patricia Soutto Mayor Assumpçao of Buffet Célia Soutto Mayor. Plus special thank yous for their warm hospitality and acting as translators and guides go to Virginia and Renato Ciminelli and their family, Monica Christina Teixeira, and Claudia Lima. Several people have suggested pursuing further research into these cultural and agricultural connections via three-way collaboration among researchers in Brazil (and/or other Latin countries), Africa, and the U.S. Much attention appears already devoted to the influences from Africa to Brazil and the diaspora. I am especially interested in pursuing things from the other direction. For example, I wonder how related central Africa's batôn de manioc is to the processing of manioc by peoples in Amazonia, such as the Tupi-Guarani. Ditto for the fermenting of corn for Ghana's kenkey or banku. Also, I've never eaten cassava chips in Ghana, but they're a standard in Brazil. How do Brazil's roughly 1600 species of cassava (manioc) compare to West Africa's? Etc., etc., etc. Any ideas on how to pursue these interests? Get in touch."

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Egusi soup and yam pottage, a conversation about Nigerian cuisine

We met in Wegmans, her grocery cart filled with collard greens, and I discovered that Mrs. R. A. (Auntie Bola) Sodeinde was in Pennsylvania for just one more day. She was busy cooking up some jollof rice and egusi stew for her son and his family before returning to Nigeria. When I learned of her television cooking show in Nigeria in the 1960s, and that she was in charge of providing food to students, faculty, and visiting dignitaries at the University of Lagos from 1962-1975, I knew I had to talk more with her. She graciously consented, and the interview is available as a podcast (To subscribe to earlier and future podcasts, go to itunes or a similar podcast directory, and search for BETUMI: the African Culinary Network). To listen to her interview only, click on the title above.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Coming soon to a store near you (or maybe already there!)

I was delighted to find our local Wegman's has begun carrying Julie and Albert Ndjee's West African salsa-like organic, preservative- and msg-free marinade/sauce "Neilly's Ultimate Seasonings" which bottles the flavors of the cuisine of Julie's homeland Cameroon. While my nephew from Ghana liked the pepperiness of the hot version (along, I'm sure with the onions and garlic) he found it "too tomato-y" and wanted more salt and less lemon, and, frankly, would have preferred the pounded dried shrimps and herrings of his familiar sheeto (or shito, shitor) from Ghana to its chicken-based flavors. Both the mild and the hot version had a pleasant complexity beyond the southern African "peri-peri" sauces I've had. Apparently there's also a vegetarian version that hasn't made it into our store yet. Ultimate Seasonings is working its way from the northeast westward in the U.S., and is available in a number of stores, ranging from Whole Foods Markets to Ukrop's and Kroger and ACME. For more information, click on the Ultimate Seasonings link on the right.

It's a fast, convenient, healthy way to get a taste of West Africa. Also, another sign that African cuisine is on the move into the mainstream consciousness.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

"They Keep Their Fires Burning" Conversations on food, manners and hospitality in Africa"

Another good book to know about: Georgina Beier edited this contribution to Germany's Beyreuth African Studies series (#72), published in 2005 ( I had a little trouble running it down, but it's a fascinating record of growing up and society in largely rural or small town late 20th and early 21st century sub-Saharan Africa by 14 notable Africans, many artists or scholars (all but 2 of them men, and heavily weighted towards Nigeria) sharing stories and insights about their families, communities, and food. Contributors are from Nigeria (Chinua Achebe, Segun Olusola, whose essay gives the book its title, Rowland Abiodun, Bridget Robinson Kuba, Wole Ogundele, Umar Danfulani, Andrew Haruna), Burkina Faso (Karim Traore), Cameroon, (Godfrey B. Tangwa), Tanzania (Matthew Ole Suya Brown, a Masai), Sudan (Ibrahim El-Salahi), Uganda (Taban lo Liyong), and South Africa (Rebecca and Es'kia Mphahlele). It is a welcome addition to culinary writing on sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Africa's Culinary Star Rising

I just received my copy of Samuelsson's The Soul of a New Cuisine today, and I'm thrilled. He's definitely the poster child for the new wave of African Culinary consciousness. (By the way, there's a review of the book, with recipes, in September 2006's Oprah magazine.) I was nervous he wouldn't get it right, but he's done his homework, and his book feels genuine and fresh, if a bit glossy. It's a wonderful accomplishment, lavishly produced. It'll be a treat to work my way through it. I've dined in Marrakech and Cape Town as well as Accra and Jos, and am eager to try some of his recipes (though I'm pretty sure his injera recipe won't cut it for me. That soda water stuff doesn't give it the right texture).

He divided Central Africa up among North, West, and East Africa. I understand, and it's probably the most reasonable way to do it, but felt sorry anyhow. It startled me to hear that okra was originally from Ethiopia, because my research (e.g., The Cambridge World History of Food) indicated it most likely originated from tropical West Africa, which is what I've always thought. It looks like there may be some controversy there, but that's no biggie. I was happy he acknowledged Jessica Harris' legacy. Photographs are fabulous, the format of the book makes African food quite accessible to nonAfricans (they can identify with and not be threatened by him). He's very up front about his preferences, and as mine are towards Western Africa, I wished he'd placed more emphasis on that part of the region (more steamed recipes, like moimoi, or kenkey, and rubs like tankora, or yaggi, powder, and condiments like sheeto (shito, shitor), or gari. And when he said to substitute sweet potatoes if yams weren't available, that really hurt, as did his easy dismissal of palm oil (and so far I've seen nothing about palm butter). Still, as he realizes, there are many, many African cookbooks waiting to be written. If you ever stumble across this site, Marcus, thank you for what you're doing.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sub-Saharan African Cuisine and Western Perceptions

I've just posted a pdf file of the slides from the powerpoint talk I gave in Boston over the summer at the Association for the Study of Food and Society (AFSF) and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society (AFHVS) joint conference. Hope you find them helpful. I had to delete some of the graphics since I was worried about protecting photographers' rights. For a summary of the presentation see the posting on June 12. By the way, in case you don't recognize it, the picture to the left is the cover of Laurens van der Post's classic 1970 African Cooking, a volume in the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Cool African Food T-shirts

I just discovered, a great site to order African food-related t-shirts. I ordered "got fufu?" and "I (heart for love) African Food." There're dozens of others, depending on your favorite: jollof rice, cassava leaf, palava sauce, acheke, potato greens, cous cous, plantains, moimoi, gari, torborgee (I know that's Liberian, and it includes palm oil, but could somebody help me out with the details?), fufu and soup, roasted meat, okra, pepper soup, check rice and gravy, yams, etc.

Also, there's a new website in the U.K. that says they'll eventually specialize in African foods:
The African There's not much there now besides music, but you might check them out later.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fran's summer reading list: African food culture

The kitchen's hot, why not get out and savor some summer reading on African food and culture? Try anthropologist Karen Flynn's sobering Food, Culture and Survival in an African City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) about life on the streets of Mwanza, Tanzania (you can see my review in Food, Culture and Society). Another gem I'm reading now is Boston University historian James McCann's fascinating Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with a New World Crop 1500-2000 (Harvard University Press, 2005). A more general book is Betty Fussell's classic, fun The Story of Corn: The Myths and History, the Culture and Agriculture, the Art and Science of America's Quintessential Crop (Knopf, 1992). Next on my to-read list is Edmund Abaka's Kola is God's Gift: Agricultural Production, Export Initiatives & the Kola Indusstry of Asante & the Gold Coast c1820-1950 (Ohio Univ. Press, James Currey, and Woeli Publishing Services, 2005). What are you reading?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sub-Saharan African Cuisine in the media and the mind

How do people in the U.S. and Canada view sub-Saharan African cuisine? Do they even know it exists? I'm just back from Boston, MA and the annual conference of the ASFA/AFHVS (Assoc. for the Study of Food and Agriculture/Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society) with my contribution towards answering that question. I shared results from my analysis of several recent years of the programs of 3 conferences I attend (in addition to ASFA/AFHVS conference, IACP conferences (Intl. Assoc. of Culinary Professionals), and an ASA, or African Studies Association conference). Also, a survey of dozens of issues of two popular culinary magazines, Gourmet and Saveur, shed further light on the subject of "western perceptions of sub-Saharan African cuisine."

I'll soon post my rough Powerpoint presentation at for any who are curious for details and charts. However, to summarize:

* in 8 years of IACP meetings between 1997 and 2006, less than 1% (0.7%) were devoted wholly to Africa or an African country (only Jessica Harris and Fran Ossseo-Asare giving invited presentations),
* in 6 years of ASFA/AFHVS meetings between 2000 and 2006, only 4 papers of over 847 papers/posters. or less than 0.4%,were on African cuisine (2 of them given by Fran Osseo-Asare and the other 2 related to students discovering Somali and Ethiopian cuisine in the U.S., respectively). Overall, 1.8% of the papers were on food/Africa related topics (food insecurity, nutrition, development, imperialism, education, politics, etc.), but more on African food as problem that as cuisine.
* While searching through well over 100 pages of a pdf file of the 2004 program of the ASA I was unable to identify any papers about African cuisine where food was considered in its culinary sense (though one paper dealt with the novel Nervous Conditions, most likely with the issue of eating disorders).
* In 11 random issues of Gourmet between Feb. 2004 and Dec. 2005 there was one article on West African restaurants in the U.S., one brief travel article by Alexander McCall Smith on his trip to Botswana (not about the food), and a recommendation of a South African restaurant in Cape Town as one of the world's best.
* In 13 random issues of Saveur: Savor a world of authentic cuisine, between Dec. 2003 and May 2006, there were 2 articles devoted to African cuisine (1 article on coffee in Coche, Ethiopia (~3% of that month's issue), and 1 on Durban South Africa's ethnic Indian population (~2% of that month's issue), and 1 page of a 10-page article on peanuts considered Africa's contributions. There were a few other mentions of Africa, but of 1372 pages, but that was only about 6 pages, or ~0.4% of the total.

Clearly, there's a huge challenge for those of us who want to share the delights of African cuisine with a wider audience, and to get it taken as seriously as other world cuisines. We need to write books and articles, give cooking demonstrations, request more African foods in our grocery stores, champion changes in culinary curricula and restaurant offerings. Also, we need to form an alliance of all the actors involved with African food as culinary professionals outside of Africa: caterers, farmers, food processors, chefs and restaurant owners, food writers, culinary professionals of all types. BETUMI: The African Culinary Network is in the process of organizing such a professional association for African Culinary Professionals (maybe African Culinary Professionals in the Americas, or ACPA (except that there are also ACP folks in the U.K. who would like to join, so maybe it could stand for African Culinary Professionals Abroad).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I was happy to notice a recent post about Ghanaian cooking on the World On a Plate blog. I also heard Anthony Bourdain's May interview on NPR (RE his latest book Nasty Bits), and cheered when I heard him say how terrific Ghana's food is. And I'm anxiously awaiting chef Samuelsson's book (The Soul of a New Cuisine: A Discovery of the Foods and Flavors of Africa), too. Africa's culinary time is here!

I recently had an e-mail from a woman asking WHERE in the U.S. she could take a Ghanaian pastry course. She has taken courses in pastry-making at the ICE (Institute for Culinary Education) in NYC, as well as Latin pastry-making classes, but was looking for anywhere or anyone in the U.S., public or private, teaching Ghanaian-style sweet and savory pastries (breads, coconut and other cakes, meat pies, chips, etc.). The time to introduce sub-Saharan African cuisine into contemporary culinary curricula is now: let's learn about fufu and palmnut soup, palaver sauce, plantain pancakes, injera and wats and alechas, new teas, new ways to serve coffee, peri peri shrimp, suya, palm butter, cassava and corn dishes steamed in leaves, meat and fish grilled with chilis, etc., etc., etc.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Nkwan Pa! ("Good Soup". . . Bon Appetit!): I recently became aware of another self-published Ghanaian cookbook that deserves wider exposure. It's called Ghanaian Cooking with a Twist, by Asantewaa Tweedie, an Ashanti and a nurse, currently based in Maryland, USA. In her own words, the book "celebrates the delicious foods from many of the ethnic groups in Ghana, and beyond." Her book "has been structured to reflect the Ghanaian sensibility for food and allow the user to more fully understand and appreciate the true spectrum and essence of African cuisine. It does not simply put the "round pegs" of Ghanaian food into the "square holes" of Western concepts of cuisine. It celebrates Ghanaian foods on African terms. . . Ghanaian Cooking with a Twist describes common sense techniques to cook African dishes in more healthy ways for the needs of today's health-conscious consumer."

Several things attracted me to the book: It is a good resource for both novice and experienced cooks, with cultural information as well as practical guidelines for preparing and presenting the dishes; features color and black and white illustrations by Kwamena Essilfie-Essel; includes a number of dishes from the northern regions, which tend to be under-represented in Ghanaian cookbooks; and has a handy "meal selection matrix," that clearly explains what soups, stews, and sauces "go with" what kinds of "foundations" (starches/carbohydrates). She's also considered her African readers, and has included a section on "Obroni Aduane (White Man's Food)" with recipes for pizza, garlic bread, scones, hamburgers, meatballs, etc. "Obroni" actually refers to a "white person," male or female. At $10 a copy, the 86-page book is definitely an incredible bargain. Since 2002 it has only been available via word of mouth. BETUMI has agreed to become the U.S. distributor, so if you'd like a copy, simply mail a check for $10 (ten U.S. dollars) plus $3.50 shipping and handling, (that's $13.50 U.S. dollars total) made out to BETUMI, to BETUMI, P.O. Box 222/State College, PA 16804 U.S.A. and we'll rush a copy to you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Podcast News: Fran on Eat Feed Podcast and Hosting African Culinary Podcasts

BETUMI: The African Culinary Network has begun airing podcasts, beginning with the 2 mentioned in previous blogs (with Barbara Baeta and Dr. Yaw Adusei). To hear these and subscribe to free future podcasts, click on the itunes link on the homepage, or go to a podcast directory like podcast alley and search for BETUMI: The African Culinary Network. Podcasts can be heard on computers or ipods. If you have an idea for a future podcast, please share that information as well (

In addition, Anne Bramley interviewed Fran Osseo-Asare in April 2006 for an Eat Feed podcast on kitchens, in which she talks about Ghanaian kitchens in the last quarter of the 20th century

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Chemical engineer Dr. Yaw Adusei, talks about fufu and fufu flour

Dr. Yaw Adusei, an Ashanti, a chemical engineer trained in Ghana, Holland, Israel, and the United States, and the founder of Mama's Choice Fufu Flour, talks about his background, fufu, and the Ghana-style fufu flour produced by his New Jersey, USA-based company Adusei Corporation. He discusses issues of quality, nutritional analysis, consumer preference, and convenience.

Interview with leading West African culinary professional Barbara Baeta, in which she discusses various forms of cassava dishes, including gari and akple

Listen to an interview with legendary Barbara Baeta of Ghana, whose Flair Catering company has cooked for every head of state since Ghana's independence from England in 1957, beginning with Ghana's first Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah through J. J. Rawlings who left office in 2000. In this brief interview, she discusses various forms of cassava (manioc) dishes, including gari, the "couscous of West Africa," and, akple, a cooked cassava dough.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Microwave Fufu Recipe

Just before I left for Seattle at the end of March to attend the International Association of Culinary Professionals' annual meeting, a visitor from Australia, Jonas Addai-Mensah, kindly agreed to come to my kitchen and help me perfect my microwave fufu-making technique. We used Mama's Choice Plantain Fufu Powder, and it actually made about a third more fufu than the identical amount of the same brand of flour used on the stove top. I'll include some photos as soon as I get them back (my digital camera just broke).

I haven't had time to fine-tune the recipe, but I shadowed him, and copied down his every step. I'll try it out tonight with some groundnut soup.

1. In a large nonmetal bowl, mix 1 cup fufu flour with 2 cups water, stirring with your hand or a spoon to dissolve all the lumps.
2. Cover the bowl with a plate and microwave on high for 3 minutes.
3. Remove the bowl using potholders. Use a potholder to lift the cover away from your face and stir the fufu vigorously with a strong wooden spoon for about 2 minutes, gradually turning the bowl and mixing the fufu on the outside towards the center. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the reserved water over it as you stir.
4. Recover the fufu and return it to the microwave oven for 3 minutes
5. Remove the bowl and repeat step 3 (stirring and sprinkling).
6. Recover the fufu and return to the microwave oven for another 3 minutes.
7. Remove the bowl of fufu, sprinkle only half the 1/3 cup of water remaining, and sir once again.
8. Recover and return the bowl, but only microwave it for 1 minute.
9. Allow the fufu to sit briefly, then use the remaining water to wet a bowl, spoon, or your hands, and form fufu balls the desired size onto a dampened plate or platter. Enjoy with your favorite soup or stew!

I'd love to hear what your favorite fufu powder is, and whether you prefer making it on the stovetop or microwave, and prefer adding water first and then cooking it or boiling water first and then stirring in the flour. We also did a taste test on a couple of different kinds of plantain fufu powders. I'm partial to plantain over cocoyam. What do you like?

Friday, February 24, 2006

I'd like to know why you think African, especially Sub-Saharan African, cooking has historically been so devalued and ignored by the West, especially the U.S.? I have my own ideas, which I'll share later, but I'd like to know what people think. Is it simply ignorance, a result of media (e.g., images of the "dark continent") and racism, or what? Most of the writing on African food relates more to food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty, unfair markets and export crop issues, than to African cuisine and gastronomy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

As many of you know, spam has been interrupting our conversations for some time now. Since the BETUMI FORUM and my journal were actually forerunners of today's blogs, today (Feb. 7, 2006) it seems natural to set up a BETUMI BLOG. This should be much less complicated than the discussion board we tried earlier.

I hope you saw Lydia Polgreen's acticle in the dining out section of the NY Times (A Taste of Ghana), Wed., Feb. 1, 2006 on street food in Ghana. If not, you can register for free at and search for it. Candice Feit's accompanying photos are great, too.

This is just a brief post to inaugurate the new board. Can't wait to hear from folks.