Fried yam with spicy tomato relish, sweet deep fried plantains, banku with hot groundnut soup – it’s difficult not to stop at every single food stall in Kissehman to taste the various Ghanaian dishes: A culinary temptation awaits you at literally every street corner.
Trying your way through all the local food can be a real experience if you are open towards new tastes and willing to eat on the street or in the local restaurants called ‘chop bars’. Judging from my experience so far, there’s no need to be worried about hygiene. Washing your hands before eating is obligatory though, most chop bars provide a bowl of water and soap for that purpose.
The best way to eat local food though is to be invited to someone’s private place: It gives you the chance to experience authentic daily life in Ghanaian households and to learn how to prepare the food. As most Ghanaians are very welcoming towards foreigners, you’ll make friends easily and won’t lack invitations – and even if you just drop by on short notice, your host might quickly cook up a tasty stew for you.
If you eat with friends or family members, it’s common to share one big plate altogether and to eat with your hands – this is relatively easy with rice or bread, but can get messy when it comes to soups and stews. However, after a bit of practice, you’ll manage.
Breakfast options are somewhat limited
Whereas there are lots of tasty options for lunch and dinner, breakfast doesn’t offer much in Ghana. You have the choice between white sweet sugar bread and butter bread which is less sweet. Some food stalls also prepare omelet with bread. If you like a hot drink in the morning, don’t just ask for tea as the term seems to refer to all hot beverages. To specify what you would like say the brand name (Lipton for tea, Nescafe for coffee and Milo for hot chocolate).
An alternative to bread in the morning is some sort of porridge, also called coco – a slimy paste tasting simultaneously sweet and spicy that you can buy in plastic bags on the street. It has nothing to do with porridge as you might know it from Great Britain or the US and it’s the only food I’m not enthusiastic about so far in Ghana – but people here love it. A better option, in my opinion, is fruit: At every street corner you can buy fresh mango, pineapple, coconut or small sweet bananas for very little money.
Starchy staples, lots of oil and hot pepper
Ghanaian cuisine is based on locally grown crops such as cassava, corn, yam and plantain which are prepared in various ways – cooked, fried, dried, mashed – to create a diversity of starchy staples.
Among the most common staples are banku, kenkey, fufu and akple. They are slightly different in taste and texture, but they all look (and sometimes taste) like balls of raw, gooey dough. This might not sound tasty, but combined with spicy stews or sauces usually containing lots of oil and red, hot pepper seasoning – and, if you like, fish or hardboiled egg – they form tasty dishes definitely worth trying.
Fufu, made from cassava, plantain or yam, is particularly famous in the South. It is prepared by mashing the cooked vegetable pieces until the starch breaks down and often usually eaten with light soup (click here for recipe), palm oil soup or spicy groundnut soup (click here for recipe).
Similar to fufu but less heavy are banku (click here for recipe) and akple which are both made from fermented corn and cassava. They taste delicious with ademe (green leaves similar to spinach) or okro stew (click here for the recipe). Banku is eaten in the whole of Ghana while you find akple predominantly in the Volta region.
Kenkey, also made from fermented corn, is firmer than banku and akple, but similar in taste. Alternative staples are rice and cooked yam. Fried yam which tastes a bit like potato chips is often sold on the streets with a spicy tomato salsa.
Other tasty foods include jollof rice – rice fried up in red palm oil with meat or vegetables (click here for recipe) – and waakye (pronounced wajee), a mix of beans and rice often eaten with salad, a spicy red salsa and hardboiled egg. Some people like to eat it with gari which is dried and pounded cassava and adds a somewhat crumbly consistence to the dish. Red red, one of my favorites, is a stew made of beans, tomatoes and fish cooked in lots of red palm oil and seasoned with pepper (click here for recipe). It tastes delicious with cooked or fried plantains (click here for recipe).
The greatest temptation though is Kalawole (pronounced keliweli) – sweet, greasy, deep fried cubes of plantains seasoned with ginger, salt and pepper and usually served with groundnuts. You can eat it as a side dish or as a dessert (the only dessert option I have discovered in Ghana so far, unfortunately).