For ‘Pan-African Soul’ Food, Try Hedzole

Feast on braised oxtails, Ghanaian jollof rice, black-eyed peas and other Afroeats at this Mosaic District farmers market stand.
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Culinary entrepreneur Candice Mensah (right), with her mom, Constance Baddoo-Mensah (Photo by Michael Ventura)

The aroma of cloves hangs in the air as I dig into a saucy bowl of tender braised oxtails and lima beans. My lunch is courtesy of Hedzole (pronounced hey-JOE-leh), a fast-casual eatery that sells at the Sunday farmers market in the Mosaic District, and until recently at Urbanspace in Tysons.

The dish is accompanied by Ghanaian jollof rice (flavored with tomatoes, ginger, garlic, nutmeg and cayenne) and a spinach stew that owner Candice Mensah thickens with ground white melon seeds. “The seeds look like uncooked oatmeal and melt into the stew,” she explains.

Hedzole—the word means “freedom” in the Ga language of Ghana—follows a familiar build-your-own model. Pick a protein (chicken, salmon or oxtails), a rice (jollof, coconut or waakye, a blend of black-eyed peas and sorghum leaves) and then top it off with the stew and/or sauce of your choosing. All orders come with fried plantains and cabbage-carrot slaw. Bowls range from $13.50 to $22, depending on the protein. A vegan meal option is available for $12.

Mensah, 44, is a D.C. native and Temple University alumna whose parents immigrated from Ghana in the 1970s. She says she caught the culinary bug as a child, transfixed by PBS cooking shows such as The French Chef, Yan Can Cook and The Galloping Gourmet. Her mother, Constance Baddoo-Mensah, introduced her to Ghanaian cooking at an early age and now works alongside her.

Mensah always wanted to open a food business, but doubts and excuses—that she didn’t go to cooking school; that it would be too hard—got in the way until 2019, when she finally took a leap of faith and applied for a stall at the annual Taste of Springfield. “People thought we had been doing it for years,” she says. “That menu is pretty much the same menu I have today.”

She brands her cooking as “Pan-African soul,” in that the options venture beyond Ghanaian borders and traditions. Oxtails, for instance, are prevalent in the Caribbean and the American South, but not in her parents’ homeland. In Ghana, jollof rice is served only on special occasions. “I cringe at jollof rice being everywhere,” Mensah confesses, “but at the same time I want jollof rice to be everywhere.”

That African food is finally getting some overdue attention is a plus, she says, although American diners have only just begun to explore the culinary depth of a continent with 54 countries, each with myriad regional cuisines. “Most of my customers are not Black or African,” she adds. “This food appeals to all people, not a subset.”

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Categories: Food & Drink