what: Waakye and Fried Chicken
where: Asanka Kitchen, 10203 Two Notch Rd.
Ghanaian chef, owner and longtime Columbia native Elizabeth Darko quietly opened her vibrant restaurant Asanka Kitchen in December in the Sandhills area. The restaurant — named after the Ghanaian version of a mortar and pestle used in a large variety of dishes — serves as an interesting bridge between African and Southern culture. Asanka achieves this by taking classic West African rice dishes like the tomato, garlic jollof and black-eyed pea-filled waakye and pairing them with familiar flavors like baked chicken or fried fish.
This week’s bite features the waakye with Asanka’s take on fried chicken. While West African cuisine can be spice heavy, waakye is humble, featuring the black-eyed peas and rice cooked together in sorghum leaves, which provide a fragrant scent. The rice is topped with a spiced tomato stew which adds pop and flair.
Darko’s crispy fried chicken reminds me of a more subtle Nashville hot, featuring soft but rich spices that crust the meat. Familiar, but different all at once, the spices add a West African flair to the Southern favorite.
Besides the rice and meat dishes, Asanka also has traditional sides like pepper soup — a mild, golden stew made from onions, peppers, goat meat and spices — and small bites like akara, a savory fried bean fritter. There are also homemade juices such as a powerful ginger beverage that would even make Blenheim’s quake, along with an herbal hibiscus drink called sobolo.
Asanka is a big step forward for the Sandhills area, which benefits greatly from having more local personality. Darko not only has a beautiful restaurant, but also a wonderful presence ready and willing to help guide diners through her native food.