Exploring the ethnic markets of San Diego County is a great way to get to know the wonderfully diverse county we call home. This week we bring you highlights from African Caribbean Market in the Colina Del Sole neighborhood, east of City Heights.

The Market: African Caribbean Food Market

Location: 4811 El Cajon Boulevard, Colina Del Sole, San Diego

Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am-7pm: Closed Sunday

Specialities: West African and Caribbean foods

This family-owned market is run by a Nigerian family, and they specialize in imports from Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Caribbean. They also offer specialty produce, from scotch bonnet peppers and jute leaves to the massive white yams similar to what are found in Africa, all sourced from local farmers. The meat selection is also locally sourced and includes less commonly found cuts like oxtails, whole goat heads, and beef skin.

Fufu, a staple dish in west African countries is a doughy side dish made by mashing fermented ground cassava with green plantains, so it comes as no surprise that two aisles are dedicated to various grinds of cassava flour and grits. There are also boxed fufu convenience mixes available, as well as special wooden fufu mixing spoons. There is an aisle of spice blends and classic ingredients such as red palm oil and ground peanuts, and on the Caribbean side of the shop, there are a multitude of tangy scotch bonnet hot sauces, jerk seasoning blends, and Irish Moss seaweed, a popular elixer in Jamaica, which is found here in both dried and canned beverage form. Snacks from crispy chin chin coconut crackers to plaintain chips appear on endcaps throughout the store. The small shop is brimming with hard to find West African ingredients for those familiar with the cuisines, as well as plenty of fun and accessible discoveries for those who want to explore a new culinary culture. Below are a few of our favorite finds at African Caribbean Market.

What to Look for at African Caribbean Food Market

Fufu and Fufu Accessories

If you're going to make fufu, you should have your own fufu stick, right? The traditional staple food is traditionally made by boiling starchy cassava, yam, plaintains, or cassava flour to a doughy consistency, often using a combination of these ingredients. The glutenous mash is then eaten by pinching off bits of it and dipping the fufu into an accompanying sauce or soup.  Here we found every imaginable ingredient, from cassava grits and flour to fresh yams and plantains, to boxed "mix-and-mash" fufu mixes, along with a long, sturdy fufu mashing spoon.

Red Palm Oil

Also called manja or zomi, this oil is essential for authentic west African cooking. It is pressed from the flesh of the oil palm fruit, and the resulting oil is a vibrant red color and has a distinctive smokey flavor and creamy, buttery texture. The jury is still out as to whether or not this oil is healthy or not, as it has both saturated and unsaturated fat (but the good kind! as some say), but it is certainly an important ingredient if you are looking to cook a traditional African meal.

Irish Moss

This is something that must be tasted to be understood. And, as it is a polarizing beverage, loved or loathed, I will try to keep my description as objective as possible. The texture is striking, almost gel-like, with a hint of creaminess. Second only to texture is the surprise of the flavor, which has a definite essence of the sea. The primary ingredient in the beverage, which is sold across the Caribbean on roadsides and in cans as a healthy drink that keeps skin moist and increases libido, is Irish moss seaweed.  The protein-dense algae was introduced to the Caribbean from Ireland, and was adapted locally into a drink when it was boiled with milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sometimes ground peanuts. There is no scientific evidence to support the er...health claims, but it remains a massively popular beverage nonetheless.

Coconut Milk Powder

Not to be confused with dessecated coconut,  this wonderful ingredient is actually dehydrated coconut milk which can be reconstituted with water to any desired potency, making it a more powerful flavoring agent than any canned version, including coconut cream. The best part about it is the fact that you can lightly toast the powder before adding water to give your dishes a nutty, toasted coconut flavor.

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