The key to a good batch of egusi or ogbono is all in the fish, according to Felix Emeka.
Felix and his wife, Tammi, recently opened African Caribbean Market & More behind Long Leaf Park at 4209 Oleander Dr., Unit 7.
Egusi and ogbono are seeds ground in Nigerian soups, often used as thickening agents. They’re staples Felix enjoyed in his homeland as a child. Both soups are made with a variety of meats (goat, chicken), fish and crayfish, plus red palm oil, onion and chopped greens and leaves, sometimes even okra and spicy peppers.
“One of my favorite [ingredients is] cod stockfish,” Felix says. "It tastes different when you prepare a good egusi with stockfish, along with smoked fish. It's almost like you’re back in your mother's kitchen in the village.”
Customers can find the stockfish at the market. It’s the main reason the Emekas decided to open a new business: to pass on the love they share when cooking together, especially with hard-to-find global ingredients. They want their market to add another level of diversity to southeastern North Carolina, all the while connecting people.
“We want to do our best to bring something positive [to] our great city,” Felix adds. "It's a strange and difficult time. We thought an African Caribbean market would be a place people can try making new food they have not had before."
The Emekas moved to Wilmington more than a decade ago. Currently, they are rearing two children, working their day jobs (Felix is the general manager of multiple locations of Cruisers Car Wash and Detail Center, and Tammi works at UNCW), and taking on evening and weekend shifts at the market.
The balancing act of it all is stressful enough in normal times, but opening their first business in the middle of a pandemic adds another level of worry and costs. They’re staying on top of social-distance measures by requiring customers to follow mask mandates, and they’re wiping down shelves, counters, products, doors and other surfaces every hour.
In the end, they say it has been worth it to see smiles from happy clientele, who travel from Jacksonville to Burgaw, Wallace to Southport. They're even seeing local chefs meander the aisles for new menu ideas.
“A lady came to shop with us and found a product she said she's been looking for ways to get for years,” Felix says. "That’s the joy and that's the goal: to brighten people's life in small ways."
The market carries Caribbean soft drinks, coco bread, spicy buns and specialty canned, bottled and packaged items, like saka saka (cassava leaves) and coconut bulla cakes.
The Emekas encourage customers to ask questions about the usage of ingredients that may intimidate virgin palates. They share recipes in person and on social media. Recently, they posted on their Facebook page ideas on how to cook Jamaican curry goat, Nigerian jollof rice and vegan sautéed African greens and plantains.
"We are growing our variety of West Indian products, too,” Felix adds.
The market is expanding beyond selling food stuff and carries self-care products, like soaps and Shea butter, plus clothes, handbags, face masks and dashikis.
"African Caribbean Market is not just a business but a place that brings culture together,” Felix says.
African Caribbean Market & More is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.