Freshly prepared Jollof embraced by waakye leaves, steaming supple corn and millet banku in traditional cauldrons atop traditional laat3 (gas fired pits), unexpected united nations light soup: what originality was this? True tradition, raw authenticity on display.
On entering the one-level open space restaurant, it’s easy to instantly feel the ethnicity and originality of Azmera restaurant. From the touch of African wax print as furniture coverings, curtains and ceiling covers to the unexpected and oh-so delightful traditional cooking equipments, it’s a restaurant which promises to bring back nostalgic memories even as you dig into mportorportor. A blend of both modern and traditional food serving techniques gives a homey feel, how we both have the blender and asanka in our kitchens for food preparation.
Traditional cooking clay pots
I made my way to a two seater table by the wall which are few in number and to my surprise, a waiter brought me a stool for my handbag. That’s thoughtful as sometimes as women we are forced to place our bags either on the floor or the table which occupies space. It was still early, not yet 12pm so the restaurant was quiet but food was definitely ready. As a buffet restaurant, I wasn’t expecting to be given a menu but within two minutes a waitress approached to take my drink order. As she ran me through the traditional local drinks; asaana, sobolo, lamugin, watermelon juice, palmwine my mind raced on which would go great with my lunch. My palmwine selection came in a small calabash, it’s as though she knew I was driving. The freshness of the drink balanced out excellently with the united nations soup which was light without too much chili burn, head scratching or nose leakage. An excellent starter for the rest of the journey ahead.
The trick to eating at Azmera to get your money’s worth is not to overdo it. Ghanaian food is traditionally heavily carbed and one plate of Banku and Okro soup will soon get you quite full. Start with two ladles of soup, have a great conversation and wait it out. Then try out a bit of everything but going easy on the plantains, yams, beans, banku and fufu. That way your experience will be a great story to tell your office colleagues or friends who will wish they had made a wiser choice to come with you than go to that fast food joint.
And what a story it will be! Whether you rave about the palaver sauce and boiled cocoyam or akpligii (apapransa) and sobolo or the Otor and egg, your storytelling won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Otor and Avocado with Boiled Egg
My first Millet Banku eating experience was pleasant to my palate unlike kokonte which I swore never to eat again. Made from pure millet dough and cassava dough, it’s also light like corn dough banku with a mild earthy back taste which the okro soup impetuously blends excellently with as it slides down your throat. The blue crab (nkaa) the solitary choice of seafood for me was very mature. In Ga we say, ‘kaa eto’ to signify the rich chunk of the crab flesh. Satisfying.
Millet Banku & Okro Stew
Diners had trooped in whilst I had hunkered down to prevent the okra slime from touching any part of my dress. Had I been at home, I would have been less careful. The buffet table is thoughtfully decorated with very traditional and local foodstuffs not meant for eating though.
It’s like those fruit bowls you see in your hotel room and can’t help but wonder if they are real and available for you to snack on. But these are very real and colourful, telling their own story of Ghana’s rich food culture. My favourite were the Akpatramor beans (Lima/Butterbeans) littering the shelf.
The kitchen entrance is distanced far from the dining tables and guests saving us from the clamour of food preparation. I am still yet to understand restaurants which place tables near the kitchen entrance. What’s the objective here? The restaurant staff dressed in traditional garb to the nines busily redressed food as diners dished out their meals, a few explained the dishes to expat diners.
My finished meal was cleared with my permission and I pursed my lips on what next to try. Amidst the mild chatter of diners, Ghanaian highlife music floated from the speakers, it doesn’t overwhelm or drown out conversation and this was well noted by Kwaku Sakyi-Addo whom I spotted in the buffet queue. He was glad about the continuous evolution of the restaurant to improve not only the ambiance but to localise the experience as much as possible. The restaurant owner Madam Afua Krobea Asante has won several local and international awards for ensuring product improvement and quality service ever since she established the restaurant in 2009.
At a price of GHC100 minus drinks, Azmera attracts much of the working class who either come in groups or in pairs. I remember making a reservation some time back for a group of about 10 people and we got a discount! I noted quite distinctly food hygiene practices in use; buffet attendants in gloves and traditional scarves which served as hair protection coverings. Nothing worse than finding a nail or a hair strand in your garden eggs stew.
Aboloo with shrimp, one-mouth thousand fish and similar smaller fish as my next choice took me back to my days at my Dad’s shop in Cow Lane, Accra Central. Aboloo vendors would consistently pass by from 12 to 1pm everyday. Green Kpakposhito and Red Paprika pepper always accompany aboloo and they do a little dance together with the sweetened steamed cornmeal patty. The crunch of the fish and shrimp depicted freshness.
So yeah I was stuffed after my aboloo. Enough already. Paying for one’s meal isn’t a struggle thanks to the options to pay with Visa, MasterCard or mobile money. Win.
On my way out, I couldn’t help but take a spoonful of Atadwe (tigernuts) as a snack. I should confess that I looked for a container to reduce the mountain to a rubble.
Azmera restaurant takes bookings, isn’t that fantastic? With it’s promise of giving you an authentic Ghanaian cuisine experience, Azmera fulfils this promise in totality whilst giving that homemade taste experience. A little bird whispered to me that they have plans to expand within the country and explore international markets. Sweet.