No, not really – I’m pulling your leg. We’re not going to Ghana.
But not too long ago we felt as if we’d been magically transported to that far-away country. Fufu and Jolof rice and Banku – these are just some of the delicacies on the menu at Max’s Mukhaase Restaurant in Mesa. ‘Mukhaase’ means ‘kitchen’ in Akan, a language spoken in much of the southern half of Ghana. While English is the ‘official’ language of Ghana (population 25.9 million), Akan is the language most widely spoken of the 80+ indigenous languages. If you visit Max’s you are more than a little likely to hear a good bit of it.
Max came to the U.S. some fifteen years ago and, he told us, since acquiring a cat, fortune has smiled on him. Being cat-lovers ourselves we are perfectly willing to believe that his feline companion has something to do with his luck.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did we even find Max’s Mukaase Restaurant? Through one of those irritating restaurant card promotions, that’s how. In this case, though, it worked out really well. Somehow we came to have a restaurant card that gives 50% off at selected restaurants if you order a certain amount. A doctor’s appointment took us to Mesa, and Speedy researched what restaurants from the card were nearby – and there it was: Max’s! Who could resist? Surely not us.
The menu is not enormous, but it’s varied enough for all tastes, from adventurous (fufu with goat) to cautious (hot dog or beef burger). Isn’t ‘fufu’ a great word? It’s almost as fun as ‘wolof’ (the language of Senegal). Fufu, a staple of Ghanan cuisine, is made from cassava or plantain flour. There are several methods of making it; a common one is to boil the cassava or plantain, and then pound it into a dough-like consistency. Peanuts are another staple on the Ghanan menu; a good peanut soup is hard to beat, and is often eaten with balls of fufu.
I had the Peanut Soup with Rice Balls (and lots of veggies) – scrumptious and very, very filling.
Louis opted for the Goat Stew, Waakye, Gari & Salad (Goat meat, Rice, Black Eye Beans, Veggies and Gari; Gari is a kind of pud made from cassava), which he declared divine. In fact, he liked it so much he ordered a second helping to bring home. It did not suffer, he reported, by either its short journey or its wait of a day or two.
The food would certainly have been enough to draw us back for another visit some day, but even more than the food, the atmosphere was delightful. A pair of young men occupied another table, rapidly speaking a patois that, I assume, was a combination of Akan and English. One of them kept leaping up and running outside to conduct important business on his cell phone, to the bemused patience of his friend. At one point Speedy said to him, “You should be paid for providing entertainment,” and he shouted back to the kitchen, “Hey Max! I eat for free from now on!” Great laughs all around.
Not long after we arrived a young woman in a health-provider uniform arrived and sat at another table. Soon a lively conversation began, mostly in English, on the desirability of legalizing marijuana. The young woman it turned out, is a pharmacist, and she declared that having seen what marijuana can do, she could never countenance it becoming legal in any way, shape or form. This was a discussion we followed with great interest but in which we sagely decided not to participate.
Overseeing it all, the activity in the kitchen, the spirited conversation, was Max, who is as friendly and accessible as his delicious food. When I asked for a photo with him he disappeared in back and returned wearing his chef’s coat and a toque. I prefer the photo of him hatless, so that is what I share with you, along with a recommendation to visit Max’s Mukhaase Kitchen if you find yourself near Guadalupe and Alma School Roads in Mesa.