Fire Go’ Burn You

I’ve gotten a few requests to write more about the cuisine in Ghana so here goes. Let’s start first with the real hardcore, traditional, home grown, straight up Ghanaian dishes. First one that comes to mind is fufu. Fufu centers around the staple crop of cassava. I won’t lie to you cassava is still a bit of a foreign vegetable to me but to my knowledge, it is a root plant that it is used to make all kinds of traditional foods in Ghana and much of West Africa. In the case of fufu, the cassava is beaten into a dough consistency. Many times you will see people working furiously at the food markets to pound the cassava. This is a two person job with one person pounding the cassava with what looks like a human sized wooden Q tip and another person sitting and turning the dough over in between each pound. Both tasks look equally exhausting but according to my roommate, Amanda, it is much better to be the pounder than the turner. Guess I’ll take her word for it! After the dough is pounded thoroughly, it is ready for action.  Fufu is usually served with either a soup or stew with vegetables and often fish or chicken. The first time I tried fufu, it was prepared in a cold ground nut (similar to peanut) soup. The plate was put before me and I was at a loss for what to do.

Fufu in its prime.
Fufu in its prime.

I soon found out that, after washing your hands with soap and water provided at each table, you dive in and rip off a chunk of the dough and use it to scoop up the soup. Little did I know however that when you eat fufu, you are not supposed to chew it. Due to its doughy consistency, it is almost impossible to successfully chew through it. Being the silly oburoni that I am, I sat there chewing on what felt like play dough for a good 10 minutes wondering how I was ever going to swallow it. This was also my first night on campus. Looks like I was a bit over eager and bit off more than I could chew, if you know what I mean. Since then I have yet to order fufu again but I am determined to give it another try!

Next up are banku and kenke. These two dishes are very similar to fufu in that the main component is a dough type food. Banku is made from maize rather than cassava and therefore has a different texture to it. It is more often served with fish and a vegetable stew with a spicy pepper sauce but I have seen it served with egg, coleslaw, soup, and essentially anything you want else you want to add. Kenke is served the same way but the dough is made from both maize and cassava and it is fermented to give it a bit of a sour taste.  Both are very popular foods and can be found in almost any market or chop bar you come across. Like the fufu, I’ve promised myself that I will try both of these dishes before my time in Ghana is finished!

Last on the list of classic Ghanaian dishes is red red. This dish involves beans and plantains in a thick, spicy stew. There can sometimes be vegetables or something called gari (made from cassava) added to thicken up the stew. This dish is said to be common among foreigners because it is slightly more familiar than something like banku or fufu. As a treat after our first Twi midterm, our professor brought my entire class (consisting of 7 oburonis) to her home to teach us how to cook red red. Until then I had yet to try the dish because I had heard that it often has a strong fish taste, which, while I have come to expect that in most foods, I still do not seek it out. I thought that we would be safe making it ourselves, especially because during one our first classes, we told Prof, with great detail, how much we preferred foods sans fish. She must have forgotten this however because right away she had us dump a large chunk of fish in with the beans for the stew. After adding tomato, onion, oil, and hot pepper, I was hopeful that we might be able to over power the fish. This was until we added a shrimp flavored bouillon cube and then a significant amount of fish powder. The now fish and bean stew brewed while we cut and fried the plantains. Prof served us all heaping portions of the beans and plantain and we ate the meal together. While the fish taste was undeniable, it was still a very tasty dish and one that I will most likely bring back to the states…I’ll leave the fish powder here though.

Frying up the plantain.
Frying up the plantain.
The finished product: red red!
The finished product: red red!

There are many other foods that are very popular here that we don’t have in the states. There is kelewele, which is smaller cuts of fried plantain with hot pepper and other spices.

Kelewele, a personal favoite.
Kelewele, a personal favoite.

Jollof is rice is also very common. It is seasoned rice with pepper and spices and is served as a side dish to almost everything. Another is palava sauce, which is made from the leaves of the cassava plant and is served with yam or rice. These foods are the most common that I have seen in Ghana thus far and all seem to be unique to the region. While some are quite enjoyable, I also enjoy the small tastes of American comfort food that present themselves every once in awhile. The night market has many stands that make egg sandwiches that are absolutely delicious. Also just off campus is a place called Bonjour (sounds fancy but its actually more of a glorified gas station) that has a Pizza Inn with “Two for Tuesdays” (buy one get one deal) that is nice break from the spice and fishiness of Ghanaian food.

In the first couple of weeks I thought I was doomed to starve but now I have actually come to find dishes that I rather enjoy and that I will miss having regular access to in the States. It’s quite likely that I will have a reverse shock when I go home and my tongue, throat, and face isn’t numb from the spice. Thankfully, I have recently purchased some of the pepper spice that is used in almost everything and I’m on the prowl for a Ghanaian cookbook to take home with me!

1 thought on “Fire Go’ Burn You”

Comments are closed.