In a world where quick and easy cooking is prized, Vonnie Williams reflects on the asanka, an ancient Ghanaian cooking tool belonging to the pester and mortar family—and why the simplicity of the asanka reminds her that slow food is often the best food.
I grew up with the privilege of straddling two cultures and countries, equally reveling in movies like The Little Mermaid and folklore tales like the Anansi the Spider, slurping down fufu and scarfing down hamburgers with equal abandon. A childhood growing up in Ghana meant that I saw how food was grown and tended to, and familiarized myself with tools that were made from the very resources that nourished us.
One of those tools was an asanka, a member of the ancient mortar and pestle family. Handmade from clay and low-fired for hours, the asanka is always accompanied by a wooden tapoli (the pestle). It has grooves laid in a geometric pattern that aid in grinding and pulverizing, the same grooves that my parents and their parents and theirs have used. To use an asanka is to witness my ancestors’ ingenuity, their knowledge of food and how to eat well passed down for centuries.
In a world where “quick and easy” recipes dominate search engines, Ghanaian food is often the opposite—slow, intentional, methodical. While most people look for shortcuts and ways to eschew traditional methods, using the asanka reminds me that modern isn’t always good and that sometimes things made “back in the day” are made for all days—past, present, and future.
When I need the world to slow down and cook something the right way, I pull my asanka. Using it is a true skill and a test of endurance and intelligence. It requires just the right amount of pressure as you hold the tapoli in the palm of your hand, working in circular motions without straining your wrist. A few measured strokes will push through onion walls, release the juicy burst of tomatoes, and ignite the fiery spice of Scotch bonnet peppers, transforming these ingredients in a way that blenders can’t. An asanka is a testament that slow food can be the best food, and that innovation can be discovered in seemingly simple things. I feel the same way when using my Caraway—the thoughtful, elegant design is made from ceramic born from the earth, and makes the simplest of meals sing.
In a world where our lives are lived in blocks of time—Zoom meetings, appointments, alarm clocks—beautiful, simple cookware reminds me that you can never rush a good thing.