Ghana’s cuisine is very diverse and eclectic, largely in part to the many early colonial powers vying for control of Ghana’s lucrative trade opportunities on the coast, aptly named The Gold Coast. Everything from spring rolls to butter bread, a specialty in Ghanian bakeries made with sugar and nutmeg, can be found anywhere in the country. But where can one find such complex desserts, pastries and overall multicultural cuisine of this West African nation here in the United States, specifically Columbus, Ohio? I found my answer and my chance to try these delicious staples I had long read about with wonder when I met Florence Asantewaa Asirifi, also known as Asante Flo, which is also the name of her Ghanaian pastry catering company, Asante Flo’s Bakery.
Born in Akyem Hemang in the Eastern region of Ghana, Asirifi learned to cook at early age under the supervision of her auntie, Queen mother of her hometown. Her aunt mastered a large variety of Ghanaian dishes and used her skills to help other women throughout her village through Miss Education, a program designed for the sole purpose to teach them skills such as how to deftly cook dishes and sew. Asifiri followed her aunt’s example of education and left to study, completing a three-year post-secondary education degree. She was offered an opportunity to teach home economics and food nutrition in a local junior high school, and it was there that her catering skills blossomed. She made dishes for church functions and parties in addition to making pastries for sale to bring in extra income to support her small children, as at that time she was a single parent.
Asifiri immigrated to the United States in 2000 with the goal of furthering opportunities for herself and her children. She decided on Columbus, attracted to “(the city’s) sense of family and community.” Helped by doting friends and family, she decided to research a way to return to her passion for cooking into a profitable business. After contacting the Department of Agriculture and a home inspection, she was granted a home bakery license. She yearns for a catering license, but was ultimately denied as there was no restaurant kitchen to facilitate those specific needs.
However, upon trying her incredible dishes, anyone who loves food would be a fan and it is easy to imagine the demand for her talents to only grow in the future. As one sits in her kitchen watching her cook and talk, she is a naturally loving spirit, laughing and chatting as she smoothly orchestrates preparing dishes and answering questions with enviable ease.
A few of her many Ghanaian pastry specialties include but are not limited to: sweet wheat flour chips (chin-chin), rock buns (think larger doughnut holes and just as tasty if not more so), coconut biscuits (biscuit actually a cookie, a remnant of British colonial influence. Each one is chewy, crispy coconut cookies each painstakingly garnished with a glace cherry, and a popular snack in the West African country, Ghanaian peanut brittle (Nkati cake). Nkati is the term for “peanuts in the local Twi language, hence the name.
Her daughter and my close friend, Priscilla Dwomoh, a top model, talent coordinator, stylist and so much more helps her make meat pies, similar to Jamaican meat pies or empanadas. Filled with minced beef, onions and peppers, meat pies are delicious and a popular Ghanaian snack served at parties and restaurants.Watching them work together laughing, talking in Twi, there is so much love and respect between the generations.
When asked how the importance of tradition, especially in meal and etiquette impact the traditional Ghana household, Asifiri commented in the very manner that she greeted everyone during the interview. “I love to make people feel at home, so I cook a lot for both friends and family, you can’t step out of my house without eating.”
Traditionally, Ghanaians meals consist of heavy starchy staple foods accompanied with thick well-seasoned stews or soups. In addition to her baked goods, she generously prepared delicious and fantastically flavored Jollof rice, a colorfully-hued rice dish with tomatoes, spices,and meat boiled together and Red-Red, a Ghanaian stew made from beans which obtains it’s deep red color from the red palm oil and tomato paste. There are many versions, but Asifiri’s delicious version is made the most traditional Ghanaian way with black eyed beans and buttery fried plantains on the side.
If that wasn’t enough to spoil her guests, she also prepared tender and perfectly spiced baked-then-fried African chicken with steamed vegetables and spring rolls, which were surprising until learning of it’s popularity across Ghana nationwide. Asifiri also takes great pleasure in regularly making other traditional dishes in addition to the above mentioned feast prepared the day of the interview such as Wakye rice and beans, Banku and Okro stew, fufu and various Ghanaian soups such as peanut butter soup, pepper soup, spinach soup, a corn dough dish named kenkey and many others.
Asifiri explained that “… it is customary for hosts to provide their guests with something to eat and drink, even if the visit does not occur at a mealtime. If someone is eating, he or she must invite an unexpected visitor to join him or her.”
This was immediately apparent as her beautiful family including her husband Emmanuel Abu, her children Priscilla and Daniel Dwomoh and family friend Anita Akeweah Marfo gravitate from their living room to the intoxication smells wafting out of the kitchen.
Asifiri smiles with pride at her loved ones. “I get some help from my husband, children, nieces, ” as well as her sweet granddaughters who mischievously ask for payment afterwards. She modestly leaves out how much she helps them, and others in the community. It was with her home bakery license that she was able to her children continue their education through the collegiate level. Priscilla mentioned that she is warm and welcome to everyone, and gives so much to all who know her. Asifiri makes sure to send everyone at the table home with bags loaded with delicious food and pastries.
As for Asifiri’s future plans, hopes & dreams? “To open a restaurant that will serve both African and foreign dishes.”
If I were you I would be sure to be a regular, be it bakery patron or future restaurant regular. A true pleasure and treasure.