African Americans are being encouraged to visit Ghana to mark 400 years since the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade. In the capital, Accra, one returnee chef is awaiting U.S. visitors to give them a taste of home in the homeland.
At her roadside cafe in Accra, Chef Sage cooks up food influenced by her time in the United States, the Caribbean and Ghana. Spices from her lentil burgers waft into the air, as members of her loyal customer base take their seats at the outdoor tables.
“I had that Southern influence, my grandmother with cornbread and macaroni cheese - the whole soul food works, and then also being in the Caribbean, having that Caribbean influence as well. I don’t know if a lot of people residing in Africa know that the foods in the Caribbean are so similar, you have direct descendants coming from Africa to the Caribbean,” Sage said.
Chef Sage -- she prefers not to use her real name -- says she's seeing more African American customers who are in Ghana for "Year of Return" activities, visiting to mark 400 years since the start of the transatlantic slave trade.
They sit alongside regular customers as Chef Sage and her family serve up plant-based fusion meals. Chef Sage was born in Brooklyn, New York, moved to Saint Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands as a child and in 2005 relocated to Ghana.
“I think when African Americans relocate to Ghana, we do consider this our homeland and we are happy to be here but that food, you are still looking for what you are accustomed too. So I think I attract African Americans because I still have those flavors infused in the food,” Sage said.
Chef Sage does private catering in Accra, as well as her weekly roadside cafe. The menu changes weekly but can include anything from sweet potato pie to tacos to fusion salads - all made with local ingredients.
Customers like Grisel Industrioso say the food is about good taste and community.
“You have people from Jamaica, different Caribbean islands, from you have people from North America, America itself but from different places, you have people from California and from the East like myself but there is something that brings us together as one people. We can all relate to this food,” Industrioso said.
The links between food in Ghana and the United States are something Essie Bartels, a Ghanaian food entrepreneur, also explores. Her spice mixes and sauces aim to show the similarities in food cultures around the world, especially those with African heritage.
“Being able to see where all these hotspots of flavors are and bringing them together, that is what I am trying to do with Essie Spice and that is what I hope the Year of Return will do to inspire people to see how connected even food is around the world,” Bartels said.
Bartels and Chef Sage say the Year of Return is a good time to reflect on shared history and heritage.