Exploring ethnic markets — Homeland Foods

After a somewhat emotionally draining last few days–go BO!–I’m back and ready to pick up with things again.  And the best part is that Guantanamo Bay is being dismantled as I write.  Happiness!!!

Last winter/spring/summer, my obsession was Afro-Latin food from the Caribbean and Brazil.  I read, ate, cooked everything I could.  For a month I probably ate plantains, rice, beans, avocado, at least four times a week–I had the hip-spread to prove it too!  I found ways to ‘Latinize’ everything I put into my cooking pots.  This year, so far, I have been doing some serious exploration of African food and ingredients.  I have actually been focused on West Africa since learning firsthand a bit about authentic cooking and ingredients this past fall and doing a bit of cakin’ as a former student and now hairdresser of mine has called it.  I had a setback with the recent goat/mackerel/peanut butter incident but I won’t let it deter me, although I haven’t recovered quite enough to prepare my own groundnut stew at home either.  Today, I hit another local African grocery store called Homeland Food Market.  It is packed to the brim with ingredients, cooking utensils, prepared foods, and even toiletries from Africa and the Caribbean.  I had been scheduled to interview the owner for an article I’m writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, but she forgot so I ended up wandering the store taking photos and chatting in French with Persis, newly arrived from Togo and struggling with English.  Here are a few of my favorites from today:

Everything is totally authentic at Homeland Market from the smells to the packaging.

Palm Oil

Palm Oil packed in water bottles

Get your gari in bulk!

Get your gari in bulk!

Palm oil is rich and heavy and as you can imagine lends its rich red-orange color to foods prepared with it.  I’ve read that people fry food in it (not just yams or plantains).  I keep imagining frying chicken in palm oil.  The flavor is awfully strong, but I just might have to try it one day.  Gari is dried ground mandioca.* I’ve never prepared it but I’m thinking that in the Americas (I’m including the Caribbean in with this term) especially the southern United States, that’s where the penchant for grits comes from.  Essentially gari (like grits) is a starchy porridge that serves as a bed for savory soups or stews, much like grits in the South.  I am a little ashamed to admit that I do like my grits with butter and sugar too.  Sacrilege, I know.  Anyway, you see this throughout Afro-influenced cuisines in the Americas–a starchy something or other (mandioca, corn, plantains, etc.), it can be a porridge or mash or even a bread that accompanies a savory, bubbling pot of something or other (moqueca in Brazil, greens in the United States, stewed vegetables or meats like eggplant, beef, or chicken, and even bacalao).  

This place, like most ethnic markets is really an oasis of home away from home for most immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.  I can remember my own experiences visiting American markets in France and Denmark after having been there for an extended period of time and while I didn’t buy anything it felt wonderful to see jars of Skippy peanut butter and packages of Oreos and know that I could have them if I wanted to.  These markets are always great places to explore!


*Mandioca, cassava, manioc, and yuca are all the same names for the same thing, a starchy tuber that most people in the United States know as tapioca.


Homeland Food Market is located at 6046 North Broadway in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.


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