A pioneering touring African restaurant founded by a 24-year-old in Toronto is not only an expression of a living culinary identity, but a non-profit organization founded to help others with food insecurity.
“‘Abibiman’ means land where black people come from. It comes from the Twi / Fante language of Ghana, which is where my family comes from,” Abibiman project founder Rachel Adjei told blogTO.
“When I decided on a name, I wanted an African identifier. Through my research, I have found that there is not exactly one word for Africa in many indigenous African languages. “
The pop-up Abibiman Project serves savory and sweet foods inspired by Africa and the legacy of young founder Rachel Adjei.
Adjei was raised in Rexdale by her Ghanaian mother, has a self-proclaimed sweet tooth and has been in the Toronto food scene for five years.
She specializes in East and Southeast Asian and South French and Mediterranean cuisine, as well as French pastries, but discovered a new passion when she started the Abibiman project.
“The inspiration comes a lot from Ghanaian cuisine, as my family is from Ghana. Overall, I focus on the entire African continent. In general, people don’t know anything about Africa, let alone how many different countries, regional cuisines or traditional ingredients are used from region to region, “says Adjei.
“I focus by and large on African food to provide a background for people who are introduced to the food to at least distinguish between North, East, South and West African food cultures.”
The Abibiman Project was launched in November 2020 after Adjei spent a summer participating in protests demanding that black voices be heard.
“I was moved and encouraged by the strength and cohesion of the black community to rightly demand change in the midst of a pandemic,” says Adjei.
“In my career, I had always thought that I could prepare food the way I wanted to, in a way that reflected my personal identity. As I connected with those black voices, I realized that then was a better time than ever to make a difference with my culinary identity. “
Profits from the Abibiman project will be donated to Afri-can Food Basket.
“They support Toronto’s black community by educating people about urban farming practices, offering programs for youth and giving food unsafe access to culturally appropriate food,” says Adjei.
“When I saw their Black Food Toronto program in response to the pandemic, I had to intervene.”
Abibiman’s latest pop-up at Leaf + Bone from September 24th to 26th offered hearty dishes, including a peanut soup, a Waakye rice bowl with sorghum leaf rice and black-eyed peas with tomato sauce and plantains, and a “Rolex.” “East African omelette on chapati (flatbread), all priced between $ 8 and $ 18.
“I draw the influence of traditional African recipes, native African ingredients, and the ingenuity of blacks and their kitchen developments in western metropolises like Toronto,” says Adjei.
“We offer an authentic taste of the African palate through our pop-up menus. Give our customers the opportunity to discover flavors themselves with the spices and taste bases we produce.”
As for $ 3.25 baked goods, there were orange and hibiscus cookies, mbatata (sweet potato cookies), mandazi (coconut cardamom donuts), and salty chocolate chip cookies made with dawa dawa – a fermented African lotus bean that adjei is called “essential in the.” West “describes African cuisine.”
“It’s packed with umami flavor and tastes like a Maggi cube to me,” says Adjei. “I think it goes great with chocolate, but I also use it in my red sauce, jollof rice, and other traditional dishes.”
The slightly more expensive baked goods included a steamed rice pudding with banana leaves, a dacquoise with bissap and coconut brown sugar, and a sponge cake with caramelized moringa chocolate and Jamaican pumpkin quark.
“Traditionally, desserts are not popular in African food cultures, so sweetening candy also gives me the freedom to create candy using my formal training and developing delicious African ingredients,” says Adjei.
In the summer she even made an ice cream called “Kofi Brokeman” after a Ghanaian street food made from roasted plantains and peanuts, which she interpreted as roasted plantain ice cream with candied peanuts, seasoned with dried chilli and fresh ginger.
The project also makes many pantry products that are available in pop-ups and in an online shop, such as chocolates, red sauces, salts and spice mixes.
“The food requires cooking techniques that I have used for years, coupled with ingredients and recipes from my ancestors that give the food its heart and weight,” says Adjei.
“It’s a combination of new and old African cuisine made with local ingredients as well as imported traditional ingredients from the Diaspora. The taste is generally overlaid with spice, slow cooking and an appreciation of the ingredients.”
She currently runs all the day-to-day aspects of the Abibiman Project on her own, while she still works four days a week at Butchers of Distinction, with friends and family helping her with things like rides and packing spices.
She picks up pop-ups wherever the opportunity presents itself and fits them into her schedule as best she can.
“I am trying to make connections and build a community through this project so that I can be in different parts of the city to reach other audiences,” says Adjei.
She hopes to run the Abibiman project full-time and pay herself to grow the company into a social enterprise that will also help her pay rent and hire staff so she doesn’t have to rely on friends and family.
She also wants to start wholesaling her products like spices, doing more special events and catering, and offering online courses on African cuisine, culture, history and flavors.
It is possible that she will open a storefront or cafe “all the way down the street”.
“I do what I think people like, shocked, or even dislike. It’s about giving an experience and adjusting people better to the African palate, ”says Adjei.
“Food is so powerful. It’s the great connection that connects people. It can make a bad day better. It can bring back memories of nostalgia. Life is boring without food and nobody should have to do without it. ”