Karl’s Chronicles. Article 5 Food for Thought.
Great metal pots, all bubbling away in the backyard as if the place carried a penchants towards sorcery and witchcraft. On the table nearby lay a pile of fresh Capitaine (Nile perch) where a young formidable woman scratched of the scales and brought down a knife in the same vein as an medieval executioner. Then slid the pieces into a blue basin to form a healthy pile of portioned fish. In the far corner a shorter woman in a pale claret red dress pounded a corn paste into a pale stretchy dough using a four foot pestle. Working the mix with all her energy which clearly by the perspiration gathering on her forehead was labour intensive. A toddler came hobbling out from an open blue door closely followed by a hunched grandmother who, passing by one of the pots, picked up a large ladle and briefly stirred the contents. She dropped the utensil in a nearby bucket, quickened her pace and caught the infant before it trailed through the puddle of dripping fish liquor. This was one of many families across Ghana, whether preparing for a restaurant, a hole in the wall cafe or to set up on the pavement, kept the demanding food industry churning along.
The food is always freshly prepared and though hygiene can appear rudimentary it can at least be seen. For me personally, the street food always takes precedence. Informal, popular, authentic and the ideal way to eat alongside Africans enjoying their own national dishes. It is an integral part of the African experience. All nudged up on a wooden bench just behind. Shadowed by a fraying parasol and large plastic tubs standing by for the constant rounds of washing up, as the world saunters along a few metres away. Most importantly the food is always delicious and as you take your seat you could be bookended by an affluent businessman one side and a cobbler on the other. Street operators that have become extremely popular often transport in from home a great vat of steaming rice. Kept warm and away from the flies by several clean cloths. The food in Ghana is generally inexpensive and thanks to the high level of farming steers away from imports and the reliance on processed foods. Though companies like KFC and McDonalds do exist in the bright new malls, the fast food industry is greatly under pinned by the street sellers who provide ‘takeaway’ alongside the rear bench. Using predominantly home grown produce, the food benefits from a greater organic percentage. I think you can see that quite evidently in their own constitution. They possess a great posture and though obesity is evident it isn’t on a scale seen back in the West.
Carbohydrates make up the main bulk of a meal through either plantain, rice, kenkey, fufu, banku and steamed cassava. Served with small fried tilapia or pieces of boiled Nile perch and a variation of sauces from groundnut, spinach, bean and the zingy chilli dip known as shito. Meat can be either roasted pieces of chicken, the (lesser parts are often simmered away in with the fish), liver, grilled sausages, pieces of cow stomach lining either put over hot coals as small brochettes or found at the bottom of a stew. Fruit, when it comes into season is exceptional and almost free when compared to imported equivalents back home. A fresh coconut, opened by machete in front of you costs less than 30p and an entire juicy pineapple can be a snatch at 40p. The same goes for papaya, canon ball sized avocados, mangos and bananas.
Having a sweet tooth and not satisfied by the selection of fresh fruit there is further reward in Ghana being a major exporter of Cocoa. Good chocolate is available everywhere and in various flavours but for me personally the winner is Fan ice-cream. Frozen yoghurt in either banana, mango or chocolate are sensational. Produced in the capital they hold a strong reputation here and across the border. It was often sighted, peddled down the main road by a young man with a big blue and white box in The Ivory Coast. Just as in Ghana the ice cream reaches the rural areas by a boy on a bicycle.
Around the markets and bus stations women transport their dishes perched high on their heads. Sided with plastic plates, napkins and disposable forks they manage to serve in any confined space. Even against the pulling impatient tide of passengers. The level of entrepreneurial activity is high, guided by the need to survive. So food, always a necessity offers a better chance of success. Whether its sliced white bread layered with ‘blueband’ margarine and peanut butter, boiled eggs, plantain and banana chips, warm doughnuts, fried plantain with sweet chilli sauce, home baked biscuits, fried sugar pastry, the choice is quietly impressive.
By sunset many of the street stalls have wound up for the day, exchanging their spot for pop up night stalls selling kenkey, grilled meats, omelettes, endomie, cold fried fish, and steaming cups of milo or nescafe. Patronized by merchants, late night diners, students, and labourers under the calm repose of distant church music.
A brief glossary of Ghanaian dishes:
Banku – usually served like fufu for only breakfast and lunch due to its heaviness. Corndough that is pounded by pestle then worked with the hands into a oval shape. Usually eaten with groundnut soup. Banku, kenkey and fufu are all eaten with the hand by prising of a piece, rolling it into a ball then using this to scoop up the accompaniments.
Fufu – Pounded yam, cassava or plantain. Similar to banku but less easy to find.
Gari – Dried cassava that has been grated and steamed. Similar to Attieke in The Ivory Coast and often cited as a style of cous-cous.
Groundnut soup – Lightly spicy (peanut) stew often ladled over banku or fufu.
Jollof Rice – Light spiced rice, pale red in colour and served as an alternative to white rice.
Kenkey – Steamed and fermented cornflour balls. Slightly sour, great when warm with fresh fish, raw sliced onions and shito (a dark hot pepper sauce).
Tom Brown – Millet flour cooked into a light smooth porridge and served with evaporated milk and a liberal dusting of sugar.
Waachi – Rice and red beans, sometimes with a boiled egg thrown in and shito on the side.
Indomie – Named after the instant noodle company they are cooked then fried with onions, sliced cabbage, carrots, chilli, corned beef and egg. Much like a Chinese noodle stir-fry.