Tag Archives: food and identity

Roots Cuisine….

Wondering why there are no new posts?  It’s because Roots Cuisine has moved to it’s new home.  Please update links and visit here:


Roots Cuisine is growing  and has moved to a new address to reflect its nonprofit status.

Looking forward to seeing you there and thanks for visiting…


Eating & Cooking (& Loving) Nigerian

Nwaka with yams

“…next time we make some okro soup or cow foot and tripe wit’ somethin’ like gari.  You like gari, Angel?  Maybe some fufu.  What do you think?”

What do I think?  Well, I don’t know and I didn’t when he asked me.  Having begun to explore the food of Africa in order to better understand the food of Diaspora has taken me places I’ve been pretty unhappy to go, but I’ve done it for the sake of my passion…my passion for food, that is.  At the time of this question it was passion for a man that compelled me to further explore the tastes, smells, and ingredients of West Africa.  A place  that is as ingrained in my DNA as the smooth reddish tone of my grandfather’s skin and the lush, thickness of my grandmother’s hair.  The funny thing is I never known any of them, but I feel them with me everyday .

So when He would ask me, as He often did, “What do you think?” I often didn’t know what to say, but usually I thought to my American self “cow foot…tripe…stockfish, dude, I will soooo pass.”  I realized though that I had to get past the haunting memories of the great goat and mackerel incident and expand my cooking and eating repertoire to include fiery stew, egusi soup, and maybe even a little cow foot. Love is the greatest of motivators, isn’t it?

Big Mama’s House?


So, I was doing a search for websites on African American food, using that search term specifically, and essentially came up with nothing.  Most of  the entries ended up being redirected to sites about soul food, which while encompassed under the umbrella of African American food is really, it seems, more of a concept than anything else that conjures images of black folks dancing, singing, and eating chicken, at least for me.  I think the reason I have a problem with that term is that  it tends to force the food that African Americans eat into a box that has no room for the sheer diversity of  ingredients, techniques, or regions that exist, ultimately leading people (most notably African Americans themselves) to accept/believe that all African Americans eat is fried chicken or catfish (and we only eat catfish and occasionally fried shrimp), greens, biscuits, chitlins, candied yams, and, of course, peach cobbler for dessert.  In the summer, we can throw in some barbecue, but otherwise, forget it.  Of course all of this ish is delicious but that’s beside the point.*

I’ve already discussed in an earlier post, how this myth is debunked by the late, great Edna Lewis in her seminal The Taste of Country Cooking. The creation of soul food as a concept in and of itself came to be in Amiri Baraka’s 1962 essay “Soul Food.”  I am simplifying (mostly because I’m feeling lazy right now), but like most things culturally African American the concept made it to the mainstream and the script was flipped until we ourselves began believing that the dishes mentioned above were all with which we could fill our tables and our bellies.  Sigh.

But I have digressed far further than I meant to…

So let me get back on track.  Alright.  I took a peek at a few of these websites and found that every one of them had one or more recipes linked to Mama, Big Mama, etc.  There is “Mama’s Fried Catfish” and the enticing “Slap Yo Momma Meatloaf” both at http://www.soulfoodcookbook.com and a recipe for “Mama’s Pecan Pie” at http://www.washingtonpost.com, just to name a few, but this is just on the web.  I have an entire book called Soul Food by Sheila Ferguson that has recipes with titles like: Roast Pheasant with Wild Rice Stuffin’ (emphasis on the stuffin’) and lines like:  “It’s that shur-‘nuf everlovin’ downhome, stick-to-your-ribs kinda food that keeps you glued to your seat long after the meal is over…Yes suh!” [sic]  The book even has a whole section on how black people speak.  It was written with a British audience in mind primarily but this annoys me even more.  And I’m sure that somewhere there is an entire book of “Big Mama’s” recipes floating around somewhere.  I have to say that I do not have a Big Mama.  I have a feeling that if I had ever called my Grandmother that, she would have looked at me like I was crazy and let me know the bid’ness, like the time I asked her why she never baked any cookies.  Needless to say, I never questioned her domesticity again.  

Doris Witt wrote a great book exploring all of this called: Black Hunger: Soul Food In America.  I recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

Maybe I am all fired up over nothing, because yes, this is a pattern of speech among some black folks, and yes, as with any culture mothers and grandmothers are usually held in the highest esteem when it comes to cooking but…Why? Why “Slap Yo Momma Meatloaf?” Why?  I will never understand this.  And why do they always have to be big?  We’re not all big…damn.


*I can speak with authority on everything except chitlins.  I haven’t ever tasted them.  When my great Grandmother was still alive she once tried to bribe me, offering me $20 to take just one bite and I still wouldn’t do it.

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.

Exploring Culture

One of the most interesting things about the food of the African Diaspora is how closely it connects its members to one another and how little the members of the Diaspora realize it.  They often deny it.  Most Dominicans, African-Americans, or Brazilians would deny their close cultural connections, but they do exist.  My aim with this blog is to explore those connections and help others (myself included) incorporate more of what brings those groups together into their own cooking repertoires.  Food and Identity really, that’s what I hope to explore.  The African Diaspora is begging for attention.  I plan to give it as much attention as possible.