The key to recreating the beloved street food of Ghana at BlackStar Kebab, a 5-year-old Seattle food truck, is a complex blend of 11 spices and groundnuts that owner Priestwick Sackeyfio has shipped from Ghana every few months. He can’t find many of the spices in Seattle and takes pride in supporting a vendor back home. But a shipment of almost $500 worth arrived in New York on June 25 and never made it out of U.S. Customs.
When the former soccer coach (full disclosure: mine, when I was a kid) checked in with Homeland Security on the status of the missing package, they said they didn’t have it, and he should check with the U.S. Postal Service — Which, of course, told him it was at customs. He arranged for a second batch, which also went missing. “I’ll pay duty — whatever it takes,” Sackeyfio said of trying to track them down. The supply he had on hand ran out and he had to close his truck. “I’m going through hell.”
Importing spices and other foods into the U.S. is complicated in the best of times, but the additional challenges from fluctuating lockdowns around the world, political changes in the U.S., and the fading dependability of the American postal service have increased it exponentially.
“In a lot of ways, we’ve had to start from scratch,” said Ethan Frisch of single-origin spice company Burlap & Barrel. “The rules changed so quickly and so dramatically.”
When the pandemic hit the U.S., consumer demand skyrocketed, so Burlap & Barrel repackaged the bulk spices previously sold to now-closed restaurants as they tried to get more product, fast. But challenges stymied their efforts. “We just had no idea what we were working within each individual country,” Frisch said, as various governments changed rules multiple times with little warning.
‘We just had no idea what we were working within each individual country,’ Frisch said, as various governments changed rules multiple times with little warning.