The hustle and bustle of the street stays out when stepping inside a small African restaurant in Helsinki. The smell of spices in the air is tempting, soft beats of African music linger invitingly. In a corner table, a small family is concentrated in enjoying the day’s lunch: fried plantain, Ethiopian chicken stew, Nigerian lentil sauce and yellow pan fried rice. Soon a regular enters, wanting to taste a new dish on the menu: chili paste with tamarind. A big dollop of it is dropped in the middle of a hot bowl of coconut sweet potato soup.
African food in Finland is somewhat a rarity. There are not many African restaurants, especially outside Helsinki area. African Pots –restaurant is unique, as it serves real fusion of food: dishes from the whole African continent. The menu changes weekly, and includes tastes from over ten different countries. Regulars praise especially fried plantains and the house tomato sauce, which are cornerstones of the menu and always stay on the list.
For the African community in Helsinki, the restaurant is important. Familiar smells and tastes provoke deep emotions. Even if many cook African food at home, the food culture from a neighboring African country can be something new. For example peanut sauce is cooked and served differently in many African countries. When cooking authentic African food, real spices are needed. Unfortunately not all of them are easily available in Finland. African Pots –restaurant imports some for their own need. One of their principles is to cook everything on the spot, from scratch.
Atmosphere is big part of African Pots. In charge of it is Richmond Ghansah, 26. The restaurant is run by Afaes multicultural organization, where Ghansah works as a marketing and sales executive.
Richmond puts the soundtrack together weekly. On the playlist you can find anything from West African afrobeat to rumba from Congo. Richmond says, that he aims to make everyone feel at ease.
“The music in a restaurant should fit all, the playlist should include upbeat sounds and something to chill to. I have seen people coming here with lots on their mind and ending up swinging to the music. Main goal is that people leave with their bellies full and with a good feeling.”
Richmond Ghansah, 26.
As Richmond puts it, African Pots wants to take the customers on a “journey through Africa”. For many African living in Helsinki, the restaurant is the only chance to taste food that is not common here. These might include Nigerian MoyMoy –pudding, Chapati bread from Kenya or Semolina based Fufu served along with stew made with Egusi seeds.
For Finns African Pots wants to make the rich African food culture better known. Many have prejudice that African food is always spicy. In African Pots the customers can customize the level of spiciness by adding homemade chili pastes. Many also think that African food is always meaty, instead at African Pots vegetarian and vegan food is always available.
In addition to serving great food, the restaurants wants to promote African food culture in Finland. They also want to support and train Africans to work in restaurants, so that African cuisine could be more readily available here. African Pots has taken young interns to work in the restaurant, with good results. With one young person, the work experience with lead to a whole new chapter in life. The feedback from teachers and parents was very positive.
The lunch time is nearly over and the restaurant goes slowly quiet. For rest of the day catering and cooking schools keep the staff busy. I leave with a lovely coconut and mango chili taste in my mouth.
http://www.africanpots.fi/ (in Finnish) Some English on restaurant Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/africanpots
Editor, Photos: Anna Gustafsson