In January of 2020, Gloria Allorbi, returned to Los Angeles from her first trip home to Ghana in over ten years. The food she found herself eating back in the U.S. was falling flat in comparison to the dishes she had just been enjoying in Ghana. The owner of Gloria’s Shito, Allorbi describes herself as having become somewhat “snobbish” about the food around her, and after contemplating why it was that she was so discontent with what she was eating, she realized one very crucial component was missing: shito.
For those who aren’t familiar, shito, which translates to “pepper” in the Ga language, is a hot pepper condiment widely used throughout Ghana. I jokingly refer to it as Ghana’s national ketchup because of how often Ghanaians use it. Allorbi describes it as “spicy, umami, and a bit sweet from the onions and tomatoes.” Although recipes differ, shito is primarily composed of oil, onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, scotch bonnet, and dried fish and prawns. It’s dark in color and provides the perfect kick of heat for everything from rice to beans to plantains.
As Allorbi yearned for the tastes of home, she said to herself, “If I can learn to make shito, then I can put it on everything,” which would alleviate her food woes. She works as a cosmetic chemist from Monday through Friday, so Gloria’s Shito really began just as a weekend project, not as something she had planned to turn into a business. Allorbi loves to cook, and as someone who knows her way around the kitchen, she knew that she could put her own recipe together, and with the guidance of her cousin and her mother, she was able to begin doing just that.
“Shito takes forever,” she told me as we spoke. The dehydration process in particular is what takes so long, as you’re trying to get as much water out as possible, so that it becomes a preserve. This lengthy process, however, turned out to be a very good thing. With the onset of the pandemic in March, she found herself “being inundated with so much information, or a lack thereof at times, about what was going on in the world.” Making shito became a very necessary distraction for her, as chaos seemed to rage on in the outside world.
Allorbi’s first challenge was finding out where to source the necessary ingredients. “Ingredients like dried seafood aren’t very common in the United States, so I had to be smart about it,” says Allorbi. Living in a city as multicultural as Los Angeles was a huge benefit to her as she sourced her ingredients. While there aren’t very many African grocery stores in the city, there are luckily a plethora of Asian grocery stores, many of which sell the dried seafood ingredients that Allorbi needed for her recipe.
She’s named the business Gloria’s Shito, because she wanted to take ownership over the fact that this was her specific recipe. She didn’t want to call it “authentic Ghanaian shito” because “everyone has their own interpretation of how to make shito.” For Allorbi, her recipe is a combination of the way her mom used to cook it and the culinary innovation necessitated by not having access to the same ingredients she would in Ghana. For instance, in Ghana, shito would usually be prepared with scotch bonnet peppers, which aren’t as popular in the U.S., so Allorbi uses habanero peppers instead.
Last summer, as protests against police brutality and institutional racism gained momentum all across the country, and as the U.S. as a nation continued to feel more and more fragmented, sharing shito with others from different backgrounds served as a powerful reminder to Gloria of how connected we all are. She was surprised to find how open and receptive people were to Shito, and how for many of them it was reminiscent of something they eat where they’re from.
“I would love for more people to become aware of shito,” she told me, “I want the rest of the world to be blessed with the joy-evoking foods and flavours of Ghana.” Over the next year, Gloria’s mission is to “put shito on the global culinary map.” More than anything, she wants to pay homage to the place she comes from and connect people from all walks of life through food.