MaGhana Home Touch serves Ghanaian food at St. Catharines Farmers Market every Saturday, including red red stew, Jollof rice, and fried plantain.
This story originally appeared in the St. Catharines Standard, as part of my series, My Favourite Things featuring my favourite foods and beverages grown, cooked and poured in Niagara.
What: Vegetarian Combo with plantain, black-eyed beans and jollof rice
Who: MaGhana Home Touch
Where: St. Catharines Farmers Market (Saturdays). Available to order online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What else you need to know: Combos come in large and small, with chicken or with “dodo” (chicken) gizzards.
Eating lunch is always the first order of business during my family’s Saturday visits to the St. Catharines Farmers Market.
We have our usuals and we rarely stray. But one weekend last July, I found myself at Christiana Fixon-Owoo’s stall. Hers was a simple setup — a few buffet trays and typed signs offering a small selection of Ghanaian fare.
Among the choices was a combo that spoke to my vegetarian heart: fried plantain, black-eyed beans and Jollof rice.
“I look forward to eating your food,” I said as Fixon-Owoo handed me a styrofoam container filled with my order.
She grinned and replied, “Oh, you’ll be back.”
I was taken by her smile, warm and sunny as the day, but mostly I was struck by her confidence.
She was right. I’ve returned nearly every Saturday since for that combo of Ghanaian staples.
That morning, she answered the hungry rumbling of my stomach, but serving the food of her birth nation, Ghana, turned out to be the answer to her prayers.
Fixon-Owoo was inspired to launch MaGhana Home Touch with its “taste of African cuisine” in January 2019 after a church sermon where her pastor talked about having different streams of income. The single mother of three went home to pray on his words and got the idea to sell her food during her conversations with God.
“When you find yourself a single mom with three children without support, it’s a challenge,” Fixon-Owoo said.
Becoming a food vendor wasn’t a reach for a woman with a chemistry degree, who taught high school before immigrating to Canada with her then-husband in 1998 so he could study at Brock University.
Her family in Accra, Ghana’s capital, was filled with cooks who sold food. Fixon-Owoo’s aunty was a baker, who made room for her niece in the kitchen. Eventually, she caught the cooking bug.
Fixon-Owoo joined the African Association of Niagara after settling in St. Catharines and found herself preparing food for group events and the Niagara Folk Arts Festival.
“Every time we were having a function somewhere, I would always cook,” she said. “My friends would have a function, they’d ask me to cook. I didn’t have any clue at the time I’d do this.”
A small plantain combo with red red stew and Jollof rice.
United through food
Still, Fixon-Owoo’s reasons for launching MaGhana go beyond wanting to better her own circumstances and those of her children, Karol, 22, Brittney, 18 and Jayden, 13. The woman who tests municipal water quality during the week wants to make the world better, one serving of Jollof at a time.
“I believe strongly the world will be united through food,” Fixon-Owoo said. “The reason I say this is because when we’re eating food, we don’t fight. When you eat my food, you take the chance to get to know me. Then you see me somewhere and you say ‘Oh, I’ve eaten your food before.’ That eliminates a lot of misunderstanding. Having different cultural foods in a city or country helps people to be more integrated and embrace each other.”
Fixon-Owoo’s food is moreish comfort, like a hug from an old friend. The plantain, a Ghanaian essential that can be prepared dozens of ways, is fried until caramelized. It plays a sweet, toothsome foil to the black-eyed beans that hum with gentle spice.
The beans are properly known as red red stew, a dish that gets its name because it’s coloured red once from the palm oil in which it’s cooked and again from the tomato sauce cradling it.
Both are served alongside Jollof, a one-pot rice dish that’s the star of the table at Ghanaian dinner parties and banquets. It’s common throughout West Africa with regional variations setting the Jollof of Ghana — basmati cooked in a tomato and pepper sauce — apart from that of Nigeria, for example, where parboiled long grain rice is used.
“Most of my cooking is a blending of spices in careful preparation without one overshadowing the other so I get the flavours I want,” Fixon-Owoo explained.
She also serves her Jollof and red red stew with chicken. Spicy “dodo” or chicken gizzards are an option, too.
“Gizzard is the healthiest part of the chicken and many people don’t know. We grew up with it. We killed our own chicken most of the time and every part of the chicken was eaten.”
This is the food Fixon-Owoo eats at home in St. Catharines with her family, which was harder to do during her early days in Canada. Back then, a craving for Ghanaian food required a trip to Toronto for ingredients or improvising with what she could find here.
“I never stopped eating African food in my house,” she said. “Because of that, (my children) have always embraced where they come from.”
These days it’s easier to cook her traditional foods thanks to specialty stores, including Meg Africana, opening locally. That also makes it possible for Fixon-Owoo to dream bigger than a farmers market stall.
“The vision is to open a restaurant here because we don’t have any African restaurants,” she said. “They’re only in Toronto. People always ask me to do it, especially when they go to Africa and come back.”