This is the post you’ve all been waiting for. Food.
I hesitate posting this now, as no blog post will ever do Ghanaian food justice. But alas, my time in Ghana is coming to a close, and I figure I must post it now or never.
Ghanaian food is not something to be trifled with. It’s not cute, it’s not photogenic. It’s heavy and it’s spicy and it’s amazing. Also, please keep in mind that these are but a few of the amazing foods I’ve had here.
I’ve broken foods down by category, but it’s good to remember that there isn’t much of a difference between lunch and dinner foods. I’m mostly just organizing foods by the meals at which I ate them.
This is a solid example of what I have for breakfast every morning. The right bowl contains wheat porridge. Untouched, it looks like gravy and has a somewhat savory, peanut butter-ish taste. But add a few heaps of sugar and a splash of evaporated milk and it turns sweet! The left bowl contains fresh, seasonal fruits. That day, I had mango, banana, and pineapple. If you can’t find the pineapple, don’t be alarmed! It’s practically white here, compared to the bright yellow stuff at home. I’ve asked people here why it’s white, but they look at me like I’m crazy when I explain yellow pineapples. Most days I also prepare myself a couple of fried eggs and some delicious (not) instant coffee.
Corn porridge, aka mari kooko! Unfortunately, this was one of my least favorite foods here. It’s made from dried then ground corn mixed with water, forming a paste. That paste is further augmented with water and eventually becomes porridge. On its own, it has a strong, bitter corn taste. With sugar and condensed milk, it is sweet and acidic (not my favorite flavor combo). This is often fed to babies, along with milk and sugar. Thus, it’s often called “baby porridge.”
Waakye! It is pronounced as “watch-ey,” and despite the somewhat slop-ish picture, it’s really good. It’s a mixture of beans and rice, topped with tomato and black pepper sauces. Sometimes a bean is not fully cooked and makes for a delightful, teeth-breaking crunch! Waakye is most commonly eaten for breakfast, although I’m more likely to buy some from the road for lunch. This amount of food usually costs around 2 cedi, or about $0.45!
Grilled tilapia (whole!) and banku! Most any time you order tilapia, this is what you get. Banku is the greyish blob in the plastic bag (super appetizing description there, Anna). Essentially, banku is a fermented corn food used to accompany fish and stews. You rip off parts with your hands and use the banku chunk to pick up the food. The fermented flavor is a bit too strong for some, but it’s starting to grow on me!
Okro stew and banku! For some reason, they call okra “okro” here. The okra stew is a little bit funny. Because of the okra, the stew is slimy and looks a bit like boogers. But description be darned, the stew is good! The okra flavor is strong, and it pairs nicely with the banku. Also, notice the little bowl with water and soap to wash your hands before and after eating!
Red red! The mash mixture in the middle includes beans, gari (dried and ground cassava), and palm oil (aka red oil, due to its red color). The beans are accompanied by fried plantains. (Red oil + red fried plantains = red red). This meal was made at my homestay. (I think my favorite foods thus far have been made at home.) Curious how to make fried plantains my host family’s way (the best way, in my opinion)? Then here’s a recipe!
- Pour a bunch of vegetable oil in a wok type of pan and boil (you need the oil to form a mini pool for the plantains to swim around in).
- Cut plantains into diagonal slices and put in bowl.
- Add a little bit of salt and water into the bowl and swirl around with plantains.
- Drop the plantians in the oil, and let them cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add more of the salty water solution if the plantain chunks start sticking to each other.
- Plantains are done when red-ish in color with crispy edges but soft insides.
Here I am making fufu with my host mom! (She’s telling me to not worry about accidentally pounding her hand.) Fufu serves a similar function as naan or rice or really any carb accompanying stews. It’s a doughy (seriously, it has the consistency of raw pizza dough) mixture of cassava and plantain flours with water. You pound it in this gigantic mortar and pestle equivalent until it reaches your desired doughiness. One person pounds the fufu, the other mixes the two doughs together so everything is evenly mixed. Fufu is served in a bowl and topped with a soup/ stew, and you eat with your right hand. It’s not my favorite food, and the primary reason for my ambivalence is the fact that you’re not supposed to chew fufu. You scoop it into your mouth and swallow straight away. Any attempts at chewing will earn many laughs from Ghanaian friends watching you eat.
And here is a poor quality picture of fufu covered in groundnut soup!
Groundnut soup! And a rice ball! Aka peanut soup and a rice ball! This is one of my favorite dinners here. So so good. The rice ball becomes an island in a sea of peanut soup, and you eat it with your right hand. (Sorry the picture is a bit horrible. The power went out and my phone wasn’t feeling like taking a decent picture in the darkness.) Lucky for me, I got my host brother, Evans, to teach me how to make it!!
Evans’ Groundnut Soup
- Mix peanut butter (about 2.5 cups) with about 1 cup of tomato paste and water
- Boil this mixture until red oil covers the top.
- Mix onion, ginger, garlic, rosemary, salt, and bay leaves with tomato paste. Mix with chicken chunks (think drumstick, thighs, wings, etc.). Add a bit of water to help coat the chicken. Steam to cook.
- Add the peanut mixture to the chicken, and add other veggies if you’d like, like pepper and tomato.
- Cook it all until done!
If made correctly, the soup’s texture will be runny and smooth. There should be a slight bite of spice coupled with a slight peanut (but not overwhelming) flavor. The chicken should fall off the bone.
And because rice balls are fabulous, here’s how to make them too!
- Cook plain white rice (a bit softer than normal).
- Mash it up.
- Form into balls.
Boy, that was complicated.
Here are fruits at the market! The worst mangos here taste like the best ones at home. The bananas are adorable and look like little fingers. The papaya (called pawpaw here) is unlike anything at home. There’s none of the bitterness that sometimes accompanies papaya. Instead, it is floral and delicately sweet and melts in your mouth.
Here’s a coconut! Coconuts are often sold at the side of the road in carts loaded with them. The vendor chops off the top, and after letting you drink all the coconut water, he chops up the rest of the coconut, letting you eat the meat inside. I think this is my new favorite way to eat coconuts.
In case you haven’t gotten the gist yet, carbs are a big deal here. A huge serving of carbs accompanies every meal, and oftentimes, those carbs take the forms of yams. But the yams here are not the sweet potato equivalents from back home. See those huge brown things in this picture? Those are the yams. And rather than being sweet, they’re starchy and dry and bland. They’re often served boiled or as fries (called yam chips).
Bowl Float! This lil cutey is basically a donut. It gets its name from the fact that the little ball of dough floats in the bowl of boiling oil. You can buy them for 1 cedi at the roadside, less than $0.25. They are slightly sweet, but the texture is far better than regular donuts. Somehow it’s lighter and more cloudlike than donuts back home.
Apparently, people usually eat this with peanuts, although I have not done so.
A few notes about other foods!
Dairy: Dairy isn’t all too common here. Normal milk isn’t really a thing here, but evaporated milk is. Evaporated milk is served with breakfast cereals and coffee. You can buy packets of it from roadside vendors. Yogurt, cheese, and ice cream are all pretty scare. If you want some ice cream, though, you can sometimes buy a packet of it, called “FanIce,” from a roadside vendor or gas station. FanIce tastes a bit like marshmallow fluff turned into a very light ice cream.
Snacks: Ghanaians generally don’t snack as often as Americans seem to. Or if they do, they may buy peanuts or mango from hawkers. That being said, it is possible to find crackers and cookies from roadside vendors. I’ve had my fair share of saltine and gingersnap equivalents while here, especially on days when normal Ghanaian food becomes a bit too heavy for me.
Water: Water is a funny one. You can’t drink tap water here, meaning all drinking water is bottled or bagged. The amount of waste produced from all the plastic is somewhat horrifying.
So there you have it, my thoughts on a few Ghanaian foods! Please know that I excluded many other standard Ghanaian foods (like jollof rice, kelewele, and a number of stews) in the name of blog post length and fear of picture overload. If you’re curious about how these foods actually taste, you should try to make them! Or better yet, go to Ghana and try them yourself! 🙂