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Uptown

#8 Makola

Makola, a West African supermarket (actually more like a mid-size mini mart) added a second location a year ago, at 4501 N. Sheridan. The original is at 1017 W. Wilson.

Over a year old, it still had that “new store” smell to it. The meat section stocked frozen goat, cow skin, and feet but butcher’s section was sparse but clean as a whistle. A wide variety of flours with most ranging from .99 to 5.99 for a 3 or 5 pound bag, respectively. Not bad if you compare to Whole Food’s bulk bins prices, but there’s no guarantee that it’s organic if that’s important.  Palm oil, natural ginger & strawberry juices and whiting fish are stocked along with a few locally made brands of shito and kenkey. The best find was the spice aisle. I’ve been looking for Grains of Paradise, a great black pepper substitute,which I’ve only found stocked at the Spice House.  A West African spice, more common to the ginger family, according to Wikipedia. Known as Wisa Efom or Efom Wisa, it sells for $4.18 for more than couple of ounces ($8.74 for a 1/2 cup refill, net wt. 3 oz at the Spice House).

Makola’s owner Nana Yaw has been in the Chicago area for 23 years. As I tried my best not to be noticed by anyone while review the store, but he kindly approached me as I was scribbling down all the interesting and fun finds I came across. He said encouraged by a friend to get into the business and things have been good for him since. They also sell their own brand of unrefined shea butter for $4.99 (I’m guessing here – they’re sold in 16 to 24 oz jars), African cloths and films($5 a pop) from Ghana and Nigeria, with titles like Thug Love, and DVD covers that make you wonder if you’re getting a straight film with a porn cover, or a straight-up porn flick.

The original mini-market has been open for 10 years and is staffed by a gruff older woman, who wastes no time in getting to the point.  Small and cramped, they carry everything except meat.

In addition to Makola, there Kaneshe Supermarket on Broadway (4552 North Broadway). A smaller market, with custard powder, which I mention because Makola didn’t stock it, and frozen meats.

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A visual journalist living in Chicago.

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September 2011
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