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!
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.
– 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