Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ghanaian and Belizean Food Adventure at Nana & Naa and Little Belize

Ever since I had read Man Bites World's post on his Ghanaian dining experience at Nana & Naa, I've been wanting to check out his delicious find and with Saaris, a Nigerian restaurant close by, some foodie friends and I thought we'd do a back to back African dining day of it. As you can probably tell from the title of this blog entry, the best laid plans of mice and men, etc., etc., but I'll have to get into that later.

When it comes to African food, let alone Ghanaian food, I hadn't a clue. Other than reading Man Bites World's post, I didn't do any other additional research, before going on this culinary jaunt. Sometimes, there's something to be said for just experiencing without having to think too much about the ins and outs or ups and downs about the food you're going to partake in; however, if you'd like to learn more about Ghanaian food, you can click here and click here and even here for more info.

However, I didn't go completely uninformed about how things worked at Nana & Naa. I already knew that the market was inside the building and the restaurant part which consisted of tables and metal chairs covered by tenting was behind the storefront. I also knew that getting to the back of the restaurant meant walking through the kitchen and what delicious aromas we inhaled as we made our way to the back.

Once we sat down, our waitress asked how we heard about them. Once we mentioned Noah and Man Bites World, their eyes lit up. Given how Noah was so open to their food, I think they knew we'd be the same way. With no set menu, what we ended up ordered consisted of what was cooking in their kitchen and with 5 of us, we were ready to sample it all. In fact, my group ended up sharing 5 dishes and that didn't include the fufu and banku.

Before I get into the food, I have to mention this popular Ghanaian malt drink called Malta Hatuey that we tried. Wow, that drink was thick. One sip felt like it coated the inside of your mouth. It had an interesting flavor. Of course, the malt was there, but it also tasted a little like black licorice. I'm a red vine kind of girl myself, so this isn't a drink I'd get again. I just thought I'd mention it in case any of you would like to experience it for yourself.

As for the food, it's hard for me to pinpoint what spices or herbs were used. The food tasted unlike anything I've ever had before. Nothing I had was spicy, but everything was seasoned well and overall really flavorful. We started with the Deep Fried Tilapia on a Bed of Spinach served with Yam and Egg. The yams were a little bit dry, but the fish, fresh off the frying pan, was nice and crispy. The spinach was definitely mixed with other ingredients and at the time, I was thinking tomatoes and something nutty perhaps, but I wasn't sure. After doing some online research, I'm pretty sure that the spinach that came with the fish is referred to as "Palava Sauce." You can check out variations of this recipe at The Global Gourmet and Home Foods Ghana.

The next dish to arrive was a Tilapia on a Bed of Black-Eyed Peas Served with Plantains and Egg. Again, the fish was crispy. The fried plantains had a nice sweetness to them and those black-eyes beans were hearty, meaty and with a little kick to them. This dish is referred to as Red-Red. Some sources I read referred to the Bean Stew as Red-Red or the plantains themselves as Red-Red. Regardless, this is a dish where the beans and plantains seem to be forever partnered.

Two soups followed soon after the above two dishes along with the banku (fermented corn and cassava dough) and the fufu (cassava), both starchy sides that are used to sop up the soup. One was the Peanut Butter Soup with Tilapia, which is also referred to as Groundnut Soup. I had high expectations for this soup, based purely on my experience with Kare Kare, a Filipino dish I grew up that's also made up of a Peanut Butter Sauce. When I looked down at my bowl, it was seemed more like a tomato soup than anything else. Dipping a piece of fufu in it, I could taste a little bit of the peanut butter, but it was definitely overshadowed by the tomatoes. I actually still enjoyed the soup, but I just felt that it was misnamed.

The second soup was called simply "Light Soup" and came with Beef. While sometimes served as a starter to a meal with fufu, it's also thought to help with those recuperating from illness when spiced appropriately with ginger chili. You can check out a couple of recipes at eHow or this Ghanaian Discussion Board I discovered. "Light" is definitely a good description. It's the kind of soup that would be good to eat if you don't want anything too hearty, but just enough to assuage a little bit of hunger.

Rice and Red Beans with Goat and Cassava Grains was the last dish of our meal. I couldn't find any reference to the Ghanaian name for this dish. One thing I can say is that the rice and red beans tasted similar to what you would expect to get a Southern or Creole restaurant, although the rice in this case seemed more heavily sauced, perhaps tomato-based. I did find out that Cassava Grains are referred to as Gari and are very much a staple of Ghanaian cuisine. Basically, Gari is made from fresh cassava, which is grated with the excess liquid squeezed out. The remaining cassava is then fried with over an open fire, on a broad metal pan that has been greased with a little oil that could be palm oil or other vegetable fat. The resulting product is crunchy, stored easily and than can be eaten with stew or soup or meat or fish.

Overall, I really enjoyed the food. It's not a cuisine I'd eat on a regular basis just because from what we had, the entire meal was very starchy and I like my veggies. However, the flavors were unique and everything tasted good and you can't beat the price. Between the 5 of us, we spent around $12 each for the entire meal.

What we also go out of this meal was a tip from one of the other customers about a Belizean restaurant, not too far from Saaris where we were heading to next. That tip served as well because it turns out Saaris was closed, so instead we decided to check out Little Belize, which was a few blocks away.

Walking into Little Belize, it was interesting to note that there wasn't a whole of seating. There were some booths on two sides of the restaurant and a bar with bar stools. The middle of the restaurant was empty. I think in the evening it turns into a mini night club. Since we had such a big meal at Nana & Naa, we decided to stick with ordering some of their appetizers and considering that they were between $1.00 to $3.00 each, it wasn't that much of a financial hardship.

One thing to mention is that the names of the some of the appetizers were unfamiliar. When we asked the owner to describe them for us, it was easy to see that he took a lot of pride in his country's dishes. As he was describing the appetizers, they seemed similar to other Latin or South American dishes. However, when we compared his description of the "garnarche" to a tostada, we were told nicely, but firmly, that no, the garnache is not a tostada, it's a garnache. Also, the "panade" is not an empanada, it's a panade and so on. To learn more about Belizean food, check out Belizean Journeys.

Anyway, we ended up sharing 4 appetizers and one dessert. The first one we tried was their Chicken Tamal. Wrapped in a banana leaf, the masa itself was moist and the chicken filling had a lot of flavor. Click here to learn more about tamale making the Belizean way.

Then I had my first taste of the garnaches, which were fried corn tortillas with black beans and cheese. Garnaches could also be topped with onions, but they weren't that missed in this case. It's amazing how a food can only have 3 ingredients, but still be absolutely delicious. That definitely speaks to good food preparation and quality ingredients.

Next were the Salbutes, which were flat round circles of fried corn masa with stewed chicken, tomatoes and cheese. I don't know what ingredient was mixed into the masa to give it that orange color. Regardless, it gave that masa a different flavor nuance that was appealing and combined with the rest of the ingredients, 3 to 4 of these can make up a nice tasty light lunch.

The last appetizer we shared were the Panades, what the owner referred to as corn turnovers with a tuna filling. These corn turnovers were made up of cornmeal. If I had a choice between an empanada and a panade, I'd go for the panade. What I liked about it was that just enough cornmeal was used to encase the filling and the cornmeal itself was light and crispy. The tuna filling was moist and with every bite, you got cornmeal and fish.

Our foodie journey ended with Little Belize's Coconut Tarts. After a little reading up, I found out that the dried grated coconut meat, after you mix with water and squeeze out its milk, provides the basis for many Belizean desserts. For our coconut tarts, this grated coconut was more than likely sweetened with sugar and baked in this little mini tart. When it comes to any kind of coconut dessert, the artificial coconut that comes in bags, are definitely not my thing. Once you bit into this tart, it was obvious that only real coconut was used and that's as it should be.

In looking at the menu of Little Belize, I definitely want to make a return visit. They offer a hash fish and egg dish for breakfast that looked interesting as well as weekend specials like Conch Soup and Pigtails and Pea Soup.

Overall, this was a day of true culinary exploration of two unfamiliar cuisines where although I didn't recognize the spices that were used or the names of the dishes themselves, the food really stood out and left me craving more. On that note, it's definitely time for a couple of repeat visits, although maybe not on the same day this time around.

By the way, if I identified any of the dishes incorrectly, please let me know.

To see pics, go to:

Nana & Naa International Enterprise
4248 W. Century Blvd.
Inglewood, CA 90304
(310) 674-8052

Little Belize
217 Nutwood Avenue
Inglewood, CA 90301
(310) 674-0696


Noah said...

Nice! I'm glad you made it! The people at both of those restaurants are really nice and take a lot of pride in their food.

Next time at Nana & Naa, you have to try the okra and fried fish stew. It's my favorite thing there, by far.

WeezerMonkey said...

Mmm. I haven't had Belizean food for a long time. The last time was at Nel and John's.

Nice pics!

Harold (SMM) said...

Have mercy. I wish I lived near there.

You made my mouth water with those great pictures.

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Abby,

Very nice! :) Like you, I've been hoping to try Nana & Naa ever since Noah's great review. :) Those dishes you tried look delicious; I can't wait to go try them.

pleasurepalate said...

Noah: I'm definitely going to check out the fried okra and fish stew next. :)

WeezerMonkey: Thanks for the tip on Nel and John's. Another new place to try.

Harold: At least, you can always visit. :)

ExileKiss: Maybe, I'll run into you the next time I pay a visit. :-D

Anonymous said...

I came across this blog randomly as I searched for Ghanaian restaurants but just wanted to give you some info. Red-Red refers to the combination of plantains and the beans(because they look red when cooked). Also, we don't use a whole lot of peanut butter in peanut butter soup. Peanut butter isn't really something we each much of and the point is not overwhelm the soup with the peanut butter taste. The rich and beans you had is called waakye. It's a very popular dish in Ghana and one of my personal favorites. A tomato based sauce (which we just call stew) is added to many rice dishes to add a little flavor and make the dish less dry but isn't necessarily an essential part.