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Linden here, YCI IYIP intern and Gender Advisor for the YMCA of Ghana.

I am a foodie. Therefore I’m making this blog post all about food, but as I have discovered…Ghana is not the gastronomic dream I had hoped for. Don’t get me wrong, the food here is very tasty, it is just rather limited in selection and the dishes lack the creativity which I so love about the culinary arts.

Here are the top 10 foods I have come across:

1. Grilled tilapia. Best when grilled with lots of spices, served with fresh tomato and avocado on top. Eaten most often with banku.

2. Kelewele – spicy marinated plantain deep fried. HEAVEN! But a street food snack, not a meal. (you know who you are…)

3. Kebabs – small pieces of meat (can be goat, beef, pork, chicken) on a stick separated by bit of onion covered in pepper and grilled. This is most often eaten while drinking beer. A kebab night is a good night.

4. Fried piece of chicken with rice, fried plantain, and tomato sauce.

5. Fried fish with banku and red pepper sauce.

6. Jollof rice – rice cooked in a tomato sauce with oil, chillies, and a few veggies.

7. Groundnut soup – this is a peanut soup eaten with rice.

8. Waakye– a sometimes spicy rice and beans combo. This isn’t beans over rice, they are actually cooked together. It is a filling and inexpensive but nutritious meal.

9. Red red – beans cooked in a tomato oil sauce, bits of fish or random meat can find their way in, for seasoning purposes of course. This is eaten with rice.

10. Fish light soup – fish parts in a tomato broth poured over fufu.

There are more, but these are the most common that I have seen/tasted.

If you haven’t been to Ghana, you are probably wondering what banku and fufu are; these are the grain staples (along with rice). Banku is basically a doughy paste made from ground maize flour and boiled in water. On of my friends here likens it to wallpaper paste, but I think it is more like pabulum, its purpose is to fill the stomach not to provide taste. And fufu? Well, fufu is made from of boiled cassava/yam pounded with boiled plantain.  Pounded? Yes I mean pounded. I mean take a 5 foot long bamboo pool, flatten one end and thrust it with all your strength onto the starchy veggies in the wooded bowl below you. If you made fufu everyday for your family, you would not need to buy that pricy gym membership. Of course then you would have to eat the fufu which is heavy and dense and not to everyone’s liking.

What is a plantain? It is in the banana family. Basically like a really big banana that is eaten boiled or fried.

And cassava?  It is a starchy root. Interesting fact, tapioca is actually made from processed cassava flour. Thank you Wikipedia!

So Ghana is a carbohydrate and oil festival which 99% of the time discriminates against vegetarians. Not that they mean to, vegetarianism is just not a familiar concept. This can be a very tasty carbohydrate/oil festival, don’t get me wrong, and I love spicy food.

Personally I try not to eat Ghanaian food more than once a day. The portions are very large and I have probably eaten more rice in my three months here than I did while living in Japan for a year! However, where I work (YMCA of Ghana) there is a canteen that has learned that I like small small rice and fresh tomatoes (Ghanaian version of salad is shredded lettuce/cabbage, onion and tomatoes drenched in mayonnaise…so a coleslaw of sorts). They have even started making a vegetarian bean stew that is very tasty.

What do I eat if I am not partaking in the carb/oil festival three times a day? I make my own food and spend about 5 times the amount on fresh veggies that I would spend if I ate Ghanaian food from street vendors. I buy cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers, onions, avocados, garlic, ginger, and fresh basal from the vegetable sellers. There is a grocery store close to my flat that is has Lebanese owners so I buy chickpeas, yogurt, ramen noodles, pita bread, and olive oil from them. Balsamic and red wine vinegars are not too hard to find either.  I have even found tofu at the Chinese grocery store for super cheap! All and all I have been able to get what I need to cook to my hearts content, even if my addiction to fresh veggies  strains my budget.

Fruit is plentiful but limited in selection. Pineapple, mango, oranges, banana, papaya and avocado are the most common, although they are seasonal. Apples and watermelon are available but more expensive. Ok the selection does not seem THAT limited, I am just missing berries, cherries, peaches, plums, pears, melons, and apples. And knowing that strawberry season is in full swing back in Canada… sigh I miss them dearly. Come August I will get the wild blueberry craving, no doubt.

My absolute favourite thing here in Ghana is FanMilk. FanMilk, also known as FanIce, is flavoured milk frozen in sachets. There is vanilla and strawberry, but I like the chocofan myself.  Yup frozen chocolate milk in a bag = Pure bliss!

Linden eating a FanMilk (chocofan) at a football match in Accra Stadium

I will end this gastric blog on a sad note…

Cocoa accounts for 57% of Ghana’s agricultural exports (87% if forestry and fisheries are excluded).  This is a land of cocoa. The sad part? There is not a bit of quality chocolate produced in this country. There is Kingsbite Ghanaian chocolate, but it only makes the chocolate situation more painful.  But as this was a British colony…Cadbury can be found, probably made with Ghanaian cocoa exported to Cadbury factories and re-imported to Ghana for three times the price.

Ok I’m hungry. Perhaps kelewele on the commute home??? No FanIce. It always wins.

Cheers,

Linden

- Linden Deathe, IYIP Intern, Ghana 2011

For more International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) blogs, check out our IYIP section.

Breisinger, Diao, and Kolavalli, The role of cocoa is economic-wide growth and poverty reduction.  INTERNATIONAL FOOD POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE. http://www.odi.org.uk/events/documents/434-presentation-session-1-role-cocoa-ghanas-growth-poverty-reduction.pdf

 

Now in our tenth week, we’ve had the chance to try a number of Ghanaian dishes and have grown to love some of the food staples like plantain, yams and sweet potato.   However it wasn’t until Mama Augusta’s home cooking that we really began to appreciate the flavor of the foods and try more traditional recipes.  Following dinner one night, we were given the grand tour of the fruits and vegetables right outside our door, realizing that all our meals come from just a few steps away.

About 10 years ago the system for harvesting these fruits and vegetables was different then today.  The culture leaned more toward an open sharing structure, where farms were not restricted from community members who were able to pick them as needed. Today, the sharing aspect has tightened up and most farms are not open for the taking, but nevertheless these fruits and vegetables still seem within easy access and are always in plenty at the market.

The Vegetable and Fruit Tour- Guide: Mama Augusta

Cassava Root

This is a picture taken just outside the YMCA, where cassava root is being dug up.  Cassava is a main ingredient in fufu which is a Ghanaian favourite.  The look of them is similar to yams and they take about 6 months- 1 year  grow.

"Paw Paw" Tree

This is paw paw also known as papaya.  This tree is common to see around Koforidua, not to confuse it with the coconut tree where the coconuts also group together at the top.  Paw paw came be picked, but more commonly it drops from the tree when it’s ripe.

Pineapple

Here is a more familiar fruit: pineapple or abrobe in Twi. This has definitely been my favourite fruit to eat here so far.  Some interesting things I learned is that pineapple grows one to a plant and that it takes a year or more for it to be ready to eat.  Most fruit stands sell pineapple along with oranges, apples, watermelon, pawpaw and sometimes mango.   The fruit stands came be found all over the town so fresh pineapple is always on hand.

Mama Augusta

This is Mama Augusta showing us the Coco Yam plant.  The leaves of this plant are what makespalava sauce which has become a new favourite for all the volunteers.  It’s incredible how resourceful Ghanaians are with plants, not only to make their dishes but also as home remedies. Mama Augusta was explaining how certain leaves from trees grinded up and mixed with water help cure fevers.  This is practiced for a number of different illnesses.

Throughout my time in Koforidua I have taken more of an interest in plants and trees and looking at what actually goes into the foods we eat.  It’s refreshing to see plants right outside your door literally served on your plate.  It’s opposite of Canada where you rarely know the origin of your food and the ingredients of your dish.  It’s definitely a nice change.

- Jenna Hubbert, YCI Youth Ambassador, Ghana 2010. Jenna just completed a 10-week project in Takoradi and Koforidua.

For more volunteer blogs, check out our Travel Diary category.

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