Emancipation Village 2010: African Food Fair Part 2 – Cassava Fries & Kelewele (video)

After passing through the entrance it was time to head straight to the food court. Food was served in 2 main areas, one officially designated “Food Court” where most of the vendors were still absent or trying to keep dry beneath white tarpaulin, and the area shown above, which was close to the DJ Sound System and seemed to be operating primarily under the auspices of TTABA (the Trinidad & Tobago AgriBusiness Association).

Locals would be familiar with TTABA as a local packager of coconut water, as well as frozen cassava and sweet potato items. I myself am a huge fan of their products as the quality and value for money is always consistent.

On this day they were selling Cassava Bake, Cassava Fries (frozen as well as freshly fried on the spot), and Coconut Water.

It was much too chilly to think about cold Coconut Water, but I promptly shelled out some cash for a bag of Cassava Bake. I was also quite taken by the description of the Ghana plate so I purchased one of those as well.

Bene balls, Toolum, Pone, Guava Cake

Plate in hand, J and I made our way to a covered table. Although I was happy with the quantity of food that I received my response to each of the items varied rather widely. Let’s take the items clockwise from the top.

Fried Chicken – These pieces were for J as I was keeping it vegetarian that day. I eagerly awaited his verdict, which turned out to be a shrug and “is normal fried chicken”. Really? No peanut flavour? “Nope” … Gotta tell you that crushed me. Ever since making my African-inspired Savoury Peanut Chicken I have been in love with the combination of peanut and chicken and was quite disappointed that an African Food Fair was serving chicken that wasn’t any different from the fried chicken that a Trinidadian can pick up literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from any fast food outlet. Having had a Ghanian family friend who had made him and his family peanut chicken when he was growing up, J was also underwhelmed.

Jollof Rice – I am no expert on Jollof Rice but my mother has raved about it to me through the years, so I’m guessing this rice left something out as it was rather forgettable.

Kelewele – I was extremely excited to see this on the menu. Ever since it was brought to my attention by a Trinigourmet Facebook Fan, kelewele has become part of my culinary repertoire. What I love about it is the mix of spices (especially ginger) that infuse the fried plaintain flesh. I’ll be posting the recipe that I use next week, but until then let’s just say that this Kelewele did not have any discernible seasonings and seemed to be standard Trini fried plantain – not a bad thing as I love fried plantain in any form, but still a bit of a let down in terms of looking for that ‘foreign twist’.

Spinach With Fish – When the lady serving out the food told me that the fish involved was smoked herring I told her to just put a spoonful. I’ve pretty much hated herring all my life, but still wanted to give this unusual looking preparation a try.

    Can I just say HOW GOOD THIS WAS?!

I wanted a whole bowl full. The creaminess of the spinach seemed to form the perfect neutral balance to the innate saltiness of the fish, and muted the intensity of the herring as well. The whole effect was like that of a creamy. mild buljol. This taste alone redeemed the plate and stayed in my memory for several days. Determined to recreate it at home I did some online research and found that the actual name of this dish appears to be Kentumere (if I am wrong however, do correct me :)). It was discoveries like this one that I had showed up, hoping to find!

Cassava – This was just a plain piece of Cassava. Nothing added. Hmm…

Mauby – Definitely homemade, it leaned towards the bitter, but with enough sugar to remain enjoyable 🙂

After licking down the Ghana plate I skipped the table of local sweets for some hot Cassava Fries. The TTABA representatives were very enthusiastic about promoting this product which is now available in supermarket freezer aisles. An interesting point that they made is that when you are frying cassava don’t wait for the golden turn in color that you get from potato. Indeed, in doing so, the cassava is prone to explosion due to overheating. Oh my!

Cassava (also known as manioc, yuca, and tapioca) is a starchy root vegetable, like potato, with a much milder, sweet flavour. As a result fries like these definitely can take some aggressive salting when coming out the oil. As the above video also shows, I took mine with ketchup and BBQ sauce. Yum!

Sitting at a shared cover table, the pelting rain and chilly winds at my back struck a strange contrast to the warm convivality of all I had encountered so far, the hot comforting fries that I was enjoying and the upbeat African diaspora music that one Mr. Braithwaite in the DJ Booth kept in hot rotation.

Quick, someone give this man a radio license! 🙂