Assignment 2: Togo


Location: West Africa
Population: 8 million
Capital: Lome
Geography: Small Atlantic coastline to the south, savannah in the north
Languages: French, Ewe, Kabiyé
Signature flavours: Gbotemi (a spice mix of ajwain, clove, cardamom and others—west Africa’s answer to garam masala), seafood, tomato, peanut sauce

The Menu

Eric was very excited to purchase a mortar and pestle for our kitchen. He spent an hour one night grinding spices to create gbotemi. It must be said that he had a hard time finding the resources he needed to prepare Togolese cuisine. While links abounded for Ghanaian and Nigerian cuisine, he had to search pretty seriously for Togolese recipes. In the end, he found some good ones, though they sometimes lacked helpful information such as cooking times and temperatures, so there was a little guesswork involved.

Gbotemi shrimp: Eric prepared skewers of shrimp, red pepper, and onion, all spiced with gbotemi.

Total prep and cooking time: 45 min
Difficulty: 2/5

Palm nut fish soup: A very fishy soup of palm nut cream, smoked mackerel, tomato, onion, and chillies.

Total prep and cooking time: 45 min
Difficulty: 2/5

Ablo bread: A cornmeal-based bread. These little white puffs of dough are served commonly with soups and stews.

Total prep and cooking time: 100 min (includes rising time)
Difficulty: 4/5

The Shopping List

Only a few items were tricky for us to find: Ajwain (one of the gbotemi spices) was found in an Afghani supermarket, and Eric had to go pretty far afield to an Afro-Caribbean market for the palm nut cream. After searching for smoked mackerel at a few places, we found it was sold at our local Sobey’s.

togo skewers
Gbotemi shrimp skewers and ablo bread

The Meal

The skewers were delicious. Gbotemi smells very clove-y, and I thought I might find the clove overpowering, but it wasn’t at all. The red peppers and onion were Eric’s addition and the flavours worked perfectly with the shrimp and gbotemi.

Togo soup
Palm nut fish soup

The palm nut fish soup was really different from anything I’d ever tried. Mackerel must be one of the fishiest of fishes. Luckily, we both like it, because it is the dominant flavour in this dish. Palm nut cream has very little taste on its own, but it does lend the soup a deep orange colour and thickens the broth. This, along with tomato, onion, and garlic, provides a base for the smoked mackerel and chilli peppers that provide the bulk of the flavour. And…okay, not everything we make on this venture is going to be a success. Eric had some initial concerns when the ablo bread failed to rise sufficiently. The final product was a little underdone inside and not as fluffy as expected. We learned later that when prepared in cooler climates, the bread requires extra rising time—up to four hours extra. We were able to salvage the crispy tops to dip in our soup, and the ablo did have a nice flavour. Eric has since announced that he is determined to try to make it again one day.


Disclaimer: I’m not a professional chef. I’m just a passionate cook with a curiosity for flavours I’ve never tried. For great recipes from gifted local cooks, follow the links above.

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