When you walk through the doors of Mkeaba Corner Market, there's not much to see. To the right, there's a checkout counter and in front there lie snacks and products sold at any typical convenience store. But a passage on the left-hand side leads you to a kitchen where take-away orders are available.
Rholanda Massaquoi, 35, is a native of Liberia who runs the kitchen with her mother. Massaquoi, who has lived in Charlotte since 2001, bought the shop a year ago. She added African, specifically Liberian, cuisine to the menu, which also features Caribbean — yes, there's Oxtail — and some American fare.
In the mornings, Massaquoi whips up homemade doughnuts that she sprinkles with cinnamon sugar. She takes orders the day before and sells out quick. Other times during the day, you'll find the kitchen grill lined with fish, burgers and pots of stews, including one made with cassava leaves. Though the leaves are considered toxic if eaten raw, these are chopped up (resembling diced spinach) and cooked for this dish that's common around the terrain of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Creative Loafing: The sign out front says you have African, Caribbean and soul food. Tell me about this variety and why you decided to feature three different culinary styles?
Rholanda Massaquoi: When I got the place a year ago, the lady who had it already had a base of customers who liked the Caribbean food. They did mostly Jamaican food, like the curry chicken and the jerk chicken and peanut butter stew. So, when I took over the place a year ago, I learned the old recipes from her and I brought and added my Liberian recipes to the menu. I wanted to keep the old and add some African, specifically Liberian stuff. We also have old time American foods like hamburgers and hot dogs.
I've tried Liberian goat soup from another restaurant before and it was spicy. I'm curious about the heat levels and spiciness of some of the soup dishes.
When I started it was spicy, but now we don't make it spicy at all because we found that more and more people who aren't Liberians or Africans come and eat here, too. So what we do is, we make a spicy sauce and we put it on the side, so Africans that come in and sometimes Americans too, can use it to add the heat to the food.
What's one of your best sellers?
The cassava leaf is one of our major sellers and you can't go just anywhere and get it, except for a West African restaurant. You know the yucca root? The leaf of the yucca is called cassava leaf. It's green and you put it over rice. Most people that come here who are not from West Africa tend to have the cassava leaf or potato grains. They can try it first, because when you come in and don't know what you're going have, it's better to try a sample first. So we say 'taste it' to see if you like it before you buy it.