After a thinking and planning session, followed by a few laughs with her friends, the name of Alicia’s business gave life – ‘Chalé! Let’s Eat’. Chalé is a fun word commonly used by Ghanaians and West Africans; it is just like saying ‘mate’.
“The first question I ask my customers is – have you eaten Ghanaian food before? 99% of them say no. Then I ask, why? The restaurants, street food stalls, supper clubs and pop-ups are there, so what stops them from trying Ghanaian or any West West African food? I want West African food to be as widely embraced as Japanese, Korean, and Turkish food so that we can represent ourselves and create an economy for ourselves from it.”
If you haven’t tried Ghanaian food, you’re missing out. The food is colourful, full of flavour, and there are multiple dishes for vegans as well as meat eaters. Alicia is on a mission to connect people to Ghanaian dishes and change their misconceptions about African food. “Ghanaian food is filling, spicy, smoky and sweet. It’s nourishing and loving; it loves your body.”
Alicia runs Chalé! Let’s Eat a street food stall and pop-up on Chatsworth Road in East London, Hackney, every Sunday. Even on rainy days, you’ll catch her and her mother cooking up aromatic flavours to make you forget about English weather.
“Food was the only thing I could imagine myself doing for free – I didn’t care whether I made money from this; I just really wanted to do this. I saved up some money and invested in some equipment, then went into the street food market. It’s a perfect opportunity for me; street food, in general, is popular right now, but the presence of African food isn’t as visible.”
Since Alicia started Chalé! let’s eat street food, she’s branched out and expanded her work, such as a brunch club, a sit-down brunch in Hackney Empire, and also even catered for private events. “I’m still developing my brand and seeing how far it can go.”
“It has been ‘Chalé-ging’! At one point I was getting a lot of doors shut in my face. Market managers felt that they already had a food stall which ticked their ‘black-people-food’ box, when in reality; Jamaican and Ethiopian food, which are all unique and beautiful in their own rights – is not the same as Ghanaian food. I was really upset by this and I decided to write a blog post about it. I was taken aback by the response to the post and market managers have now been open to my food.”
There is a lack of knowledge when it comes to food from African countries and cultures. If a country shares a continent it does not mean they have the same foods – you wouldn’t say Italian cuisine is the same as Spanish cuisine, would you? It just makes me think of what other unique flavours we could be missing out on at food markets.
“It’s important to speak up when you feel that you’re made to feel small or marginalised. Sometimes you have to point out people’s inaccuracies.”
Alicia has a degree in journalism, and after a career in communications, she knew she wanted more in life. After quitting her job to pursue Chalé! Let’s Eat; Alicia has never looked back. She takes great inspiration from her grandmother who never went to school but was blessed with immense entrepreneurial spirit. The recipes which her grandmother taught her mother are now passed onto Alicia.
“Our best seller is the Coco Bean dish, it’s a vegan meal of purple aduki beans with caramelised coconut sauce, served with sweet fried plantains. On a Sunday, meat eaters get there first and finish it all!”
“Running Chalé! Let’s Eat wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for my mother as she helps me out on the stall. Moving back to my family home has allowed me the space to express myself creatively, save money and pursue the idea – it’s such a blessing to have a supportive mother.”
If you can’t wait till Sunday to try Ghanaian food, come down to her event – Ghana Party, Friday 31st July 2015. There will be cocktails, music, great people, and great food – all not to be missed.