Ghanaian cuisine highlights for the brave
”It's five cedis please.”
I pass a wrinkled bill to a grand size woman standing in a booth. There’s about ten different pots between us. They all contain different local main and side dishes. She’s smiling warmly at me and wishes a good day.
One month ago, for the first time, I knocked on the glass and that same woman looked at me surprised:
“Are you (obroni = white person) buying food from here?
We only sell waakye.”
Like back then, this time too, I’m heading back home with two take-away boxes of my favourite cooked beans and rice mixture served with boiled eggs, salad, tomato sauce, and other sauce named shito (Ghanaian dark and spicy pepper sauce made with dried powdered fish and crab.)
Take a peek into Ghanaian kitchen
Ghanaian food. It’s strange. It’s tasty. It’s spicy. (And never touch it with your left hand!)
To my understanding Ghanaian cuisine culture has stayed pretty much the same for ages. The meals consist mainly of carbohydrates and heavy substances like corn, manioc, cassava, yam or plantain (these are usually served in the form of a huge ball!) and different rice dishes. On the side there's spicy and hot soups and sauces which contain different kinds of fish, crabs, chicken, goat meat or eggs. Outside the cities you can get served with who-knows-what. These rarities usually go by the name “bush meat”. Local people don’t skimp on the oil usage.
In most homes the cooking happens outside over open fire with just a few tools. The chef sits on a stump stool next to it. Cooking often takes several hours in which the women take turns to keep an eye on the food. Wealthier families of course have their well equipped indoor kitchens and they also often eat out in restaurants.
Food stuffs are picked up from the market. Vegetables, fish, dry substances and spices are all fetched from their own stands. At home the ingredients are washed in a bowl of water, peeled and cut by hand -chopping boards and peelers aren’t really used. All ingredients are handled carefully.
Bright red or light green hot peppers, luscious shaped tomatoes, slimy green okro, large smoked fish, huge bumpy and thick-peeled yams (which to my opinion requires similar handling as wood carving..), also sweet scented, green or yellow plantains. I love to watch the women cooking, and enjoy the strong aromas wafting in the air when ingredients are crushed against the stone board or a clay pot with a wooden pestle and are scraped into the pan to cook.
How does it sound? Well, if you’re more interested in actual eating (like me) - keep on reading! And if you’re a lefty (like me) you'd better remember that your left hand shouldn’t sink in the food.. ever. In Ghana every "dirty work" is done with the left hand and therefore it’s not to be put in the food nor in your mouth (don't ask me about the dirty works please). Actually you shouldn’t even greet others with your left hand. A bit strange, but you’ll get used to it.
Street food for breakfast: served in a plastic bag or on banana leaves?
Many people buy food from street kitchens here because it’s easy, cheap and there’s a great variety of choices. Some street food chefs wake up already in the small hours and start to make the first servings of the day. In the morning you can get i.a.
- rice (If you’re lucky you can get it wrapped in banana leaves in some places; normally the food is packed in small plastic bags, tied shut, and packed into another plastic bag. After that the food may look like quite an unaesthetic mess and also the bags often end up across the streets and into open sewers making even more terrible mess..)
- corn or soy porridge with spicy bean cakes or doughnuts
- cooked beans with garri (cassava root, dried and ground into crispy flour) and deep-fried plantain slices
- fried vegetable omelette with bread (many different sorts available i.a: sugar, butter, tea and brown bread.)
Remember to stay sharp with the street food so you don’t eat anything that makes you hug the toilet. The food should always be hot, secured with a lid, and the chef as well as the surroundings must look clean. Me and Maria have tested countless places with different outcomes.
"Stay sharp and enjoy!"
The top 5 dishes to try in Ghana
Ghanaians eat rice dishes, boiled plantain and yam, fufu, banku and kenkey for lunch and dinner. Meals are often eaten with relatives or friends, sharing from just one big plate. Different regions have different traditional dishes which are eaten almost on daily basis.
1. People eat a lot of kenkey especially in Accra. It’s a fist-size ball made of three days fermented cornmeal dough (please correct me if I've misunderstood something here!!?) and finally wrapped in corn husk and boiled. It has a strong and sour taste and probably doesn’t taste all that amazing in the few first times trying it, but you’ll get used to it. And this is a dish, in all it’s oddity, at least worth of a small taste test! You should eat kenkey (usually served with fried fish) with fingers, dipping it in fresh or cooked hot pepper sauce.
2. Fufu is Ghanaian traditional food, so it’s eaten much and often in many families. Fufu is associated especially with the eastern parts of Ghana and with the Ashanti region originated Akan people (formed by several different subgroups). To my opinion this food looks and feels like raw, heavy and tight bun-dough. It tastes mild and sweetish. It is supposed to be eaten with your right hand, using two index fingers to “cut” fitting bites. They are supposed to be swallowed without chewing - part of which still feels odd and even difficult habit for this kind of epicure. You're supposed to enjoy food, not just gobble in greed! Oftentimes local people do talk about food especially in it’s energy providing meanings, not so much in savour meanings. Usually fufu is eaten with light soup which in it’s best form, is super delicious.
3. Banku resembles kenkey, but is a bit softer dish eaten with tasty peanut or palm nut soup, or served with slimy and green okro stew, or grilled tilapia-fish. Throughout the years banku has become one of my favorite local dishes. Soups are filling and spicy but you can find all kinds of animal organs and parts (from skin to teeth; and the organs are a huge treat here.) fish heads and whole crabs. Oh.
4.Rice can be found everywhere. It’s fried, seasoned, or served in the form of balls and porridge. Jollof-rice is Ghanaian pride, served often in parties with fried fish or meat. The tastiness of jollof is a humorous yet sometimes a bit too serious conversation topic with some neighbouring countries.. :)
(Now I need to admit that while uploading these nice photos for the blog post I ate my best jollof- serving ever. Like. It was heavenly - perfectly spicy, perfectly cooked, dry enough but at the same time juicy, there were crispy burned bits, fish, chicken, carrot and spring onion... mmmh!)
5. Still, my own favourite among the list is ampesi. That is boiled yam and/or plantain, eaten either with tomato or eggplant sauce, or with a delicious palava sauce cooked with spinach-like kontomire leaves.
"This is a dish that everyone visiting Ghana
must definitely give a try!"
In case exotic food experiences don’t really excite you, you can find international restaurants from Indian to Italian in bigger cities, and you can also get all kinds of foreign food stuffs from the markets.
At home we don’t always have running water and the oven only works with gas, so cooking has always required a lot of practice and even more improvisation. Just couple of days ago, in the evening time, I was frying eggs in candle light while pressing the leaking gas cylinder with one leg and shooing mosquitoes from eating my other leg with my free hand (the one that wasn’t scratching the burned eggs from the pan). Our neighbour walked past, peeked inside after hearing my sighing and offered a helping hand. Community.
Addictive treats by nature
Last but not least, let me mention the juicy and sweet Ghanaian fruits I eat every day. Pineapple, banana, mango, papaya, water melon and avocado - dreamlike treats. Also many other nature's gifts work well as a snacks: roasted peanuts (locals use peanuts to make lovely spread for bread and cooking, and also sweet candy bars are made of peanuts) grilled plantain, coconut, plantain chips or Ghanaian chocolate made of local cocoa beans. Ah. These snacks are sold in small stands and kiosks or by sellers along the streets.
Local pastries with ice cream servings in sachets are such life-savers when sudden hunger strikes. You may actually have to wait for your meal for hours from both home kitchen and restaurants. Ghanaian food is real slow food!
In Ghana there’s a habit of inviting people to come eat with you:
”You are invited.”
(Following local mannerism, by the way, people don't really do much talking while eating)
Tasty greetings from Ghana!
P.S. There’s obviously a lot more dishes in Ghana but here I've listed the most common ones and maybe my own favourites.