Essilfua Bartels is the 4th child among 7. She was born in Accra, Ghana but she currently lives in Englewood, NJ (USA). She worked in global companies in Finance and Procurement for 8 years but now she runs a spice and sauce business full time in NJ. She was recently in Accra to work on creating new auxiliary products for her brand, Essiespice like Aprons and Cookware. She also travels to Ghana to meet with the suppliers who provide the the raw spices for her product line. Other times, She has traveled to other african countries for inspiration, to learn about other food cultures and how to include that in current or future product lines.
What do you love most about traveling ?
It’s always an adventure for me and a thrill. It’s an escape from where I am physically, emotionally and mentally. What I love most about travel is meeting people from different cultures and seeing how they live lives through their food, their music, their beliefs.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned through all your travels?
We all want the same thing. Everybody in this world wants to be loved. We might speak a different language, have different governments, currencies, schools etc but at the end of the day, we all want to go home to the ones we love.
What was your favorites thing to do in the 6 african countries you have been ?
In Lesotho, I loved going up the mountain and breathing the air up there. It’s harder to breathe and it’s cold but there’s something about that cold air when it hits your lungs; extremely refreshing. I also had the best bread I have ever had in my entire life in the middle of a hearth in a hut in Lesotho. I want to go back for that bread and the recipe.
In South Africa, what I love most is to be with the animals. I can get really close to nature and connect with wildlife like no where else In Morocco, I loved walking through the spice markets. Spices make my business so going to Morocco was for work and inspiration and also for the great food.
In Egypt, I had to fulfill a lifelong dream of visiting the Pharaohs and going into the tombs. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was about age 5. I finally got into one of the tombs and I got extremely emotional. Everything had come full circle; history and dreams.
Zanzibar was the ultimate beach vacation. I have never seen water so clear in my life. I’ve had people tell me my pictures from Zanzibar are edited, but they are not, God is the ultimate photoshopper!
As a foodista, what is your favorite dish ?
I’ve definitely had my fair share of food around the world but honestly my favorite dish still remains Abom and Apim the way my mother makes it. This is a very traditional Ashanti dish made with the leaves of Cocoyam and Boiled plantains. The cocoyam leaves are boiled and ground with Red Palm Oil, roasted peanuts, Sautéed onions and pepper, ginger and salt with salted tilapia. My mom adds eggs and Avocado can be added as well. This is the food I can be bribed with… it’s quite heavenly.
What’s the story that has had the biggest impact on you?
I sat down to think about this for a while and I realize there are many. Some of the stories are personal stories of my mother overcoming adversity and choosing to give back to society. Some of the stories are the HONY stories of a woman using her own funds to free indentured slaves in India. Or my friend Clementine who was a refugee from Rwanda and now supports refugees and young girls in Rwanda. I guess for me, any story where one is giving of themselves or of their talent has a great impact on me.
So your last trip was in Accra…
Ghana How would you describe Accra to someone who has never been?
Accra is Buzzing with music, flavor and technology right now. There are building sprouting up on every corner. Lots of businesses being set up by young people especially.
How do you get around the city?
I have family in Accra so when I’m home I get a car that I can drive around. When that’s not available, I get around with taxis; I’m waiting for Uber to arrive to Accra.
The best times to discover Accra and why?
I think the best time to visit Accra is when it’s not raining. So this time will be between September and March. It’s nice and hot and there won’t be any flooding. Peak visiting times will be during the Harmattan season which is still hot but bearable and this is around November to Early March.
What hotel do you recommend to visiting friends?
There are so many great hotels to visit in Ghana and it’ll all depend on the experience you’re looking for. If you’re looking for budget but nice, Alisa hotel is a good option. The best boutique hotel in my opinion is Villa Boutique which has some incredibly well designed rooms. If you’re looking for 5 star world class accommodation then a great option will be Kempinski hotel or Movenpick Ambassador Hotel but in my opinion the best way to explore the country is to stay with a local host who can show you the ropes.
What is one restaurant you must eat at while in Accra?
Buka restaurant is a one-stop-shop kind of restaurant for everything West-African. The food ranges from Ghanaian to Ivorian, to Senegalese and Nigerian. Definitely one must try the Peppered Gizzards, I always get that—every single time.
Where do you like to go out with friends?
I like going to Clarisse for the Atseke and Tilapia, Republic for the famous Kokroko Drink and Mukase Eatery for her fantastic Jollof.
Any tips for getting the true local experience?
Carry Tums or any other antacid with you because the best food experience is street food. It might give you a little heartburn or stomach trouble so arm yourself and then go for it. One of the first places I’d recommend is the Kelewele spot at Labone Junction, the lady who sells there has been selling since I was in primary school and that’s about 20 years ago. She sells the best Kelewele!
What is Accra most famous for?
Accra is famous for it’s nightlife, it’s people and it’s beat!
What is one souvenir to bring back from Accra?
Jewelry, Clothing made with great African print fabric or Kente Fabric and FOOD (Spice)!