Ogbonna Moses Onwubiko set up shop in Pittsburgh to address one kind of void, and wound up finding and filling a different one entirely. While providing tax and financial services to small businesses, Nigerian-born Moses says his clients would ask about getting African and Caribbean groceries and sundries.
So, for the past three-and-a-half years, he's been operating the Global Food Market, near the intersection of Highland and Penn Circle South in East Liberty. And if you need a frozen goat's head, he's your man.
"I found out there is no African food store owned by Africans. There are some Chinese people selling African food, but it's not the same," he says. So he started taking orders and shipping in a variety of African foodstuffs from importers in Washington, D.C. and New York. He supplies nearby Royal Caribbean restaurant, as well as members of the city's African and Caribbean populations; his customers also include those who have traveled to Africa and returned with new tastes.
Dry goods line the shelves, ranging from potato starch and brown beans to fufu mix (to make a root-vegetable porridge), alligator peppers and Heinz ketchup. In fact, several of the items -- coconut milk, for instance -- could be found in any grocery store, but Moses says the imported versions taste different.
There are Nigerian movies, cellophane-wrapped blobs of shea butter that are miles from the perfumed and processed pots of goo at the drug store, and chewing sticks, sort of overgrown toothpicks for cleaning teeth. Jars of brown "Delicious Shitto," a mix of dried herring, shrimp and flavoring, are a big seller with Ghanaians.
Moses says it's a challenge to represent the vast pantheon of African food -- it's a huge place, and the food and traditions vary considerably. But he carries stock from Ghana, Benin, Togo, Morocco, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, to name a few countries.
It's the freezers in back and the boxes in the front, though, where things get a little gnarly. Moses stocks cow feet, cow stomach and unsettling rolls of cow skin in Ziploc bags, for soups and stews. "It tastes very good," he avers. Kini fish look like mummified eels. Snails come from Ghana, bagged and relieved of their shells. The sign above the freezer said "Frozen Goat's Head," and your vegetarian correspondent was silently deeply relieved that the heads seemed to be out of stock.
132 S. Highland Ave., East Liberty. 412-362-1875.
Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 1-6 p.m.