08.07.2010 - 10.08.2010
One of the things we were particularly surprised with was the food in Ghana (so much even that Ben bought himself a Ghanaian recipe-book!), always served in humongous quantities. You can either eat at home, on the roadside, in a so-called chop bar ('chop' means 'eat' but it isn't necessarily in a bar) or at a restaurant. Eating on the roadside is a lovely experience if you really want to immerse yourself in the Ghanaian culture. Someone has a little stall with ingredients and a fire, on which they will prepare the food freshly in front of you. Usually, a large wooden bench is provided at the side of the stall, where you can sit and enjoy your food all whilst observing the hustle and bustle on the streets. It is also incredibly cheap and a meal of fried chicken and rice will approximately set you back GHc1.50 (£0.75 or €0.90)! We absolutely loved it! In general, there was nothing we detested, although there are of course some things we equally won't miss. We did also enjoy the experience of eating with our hands. The right hand only should be used, however. So when you eat, you usually receive a little bucket of water with washing-up liquid, which you use to wash your hand with before eating and then of course after having eaten as well. It was especially handy when eating fish as you could sense the bones with your fingers before you could choke on them! Always a good thing!
Drinking water comes in three forms: from the tap or well (not advisable), in sachets and in bottles. The water in sachets are known as Pure Water, because the water has been purified under high hygienic standards. Each sachet contains 500ml of water and you are meant to rip the side off with your teeth in order to drink it. It took us quite a while to master this and we regularly poured half of the content over us as opposed to in us Pure Water can be sold individually at the fixed price of only 5 pesewas (GHc 0.05, which is about £0.025 or €0.035) a sachet! If you want to buy in bulk, 30 sachets can be sold for around GHc 1, depending on whether you buy it on the roadside, frozen or refrigerated. Bottled water is made by the brand Voltic and we were both very disappointed when we read it did not come from Lake Volta. It's more expensive than Pure Water because the water is fresh mineral water from creeks in the mountains. Add to this the expensive of bottling the water, and you can pay about 50 pesewas (GHc 0.5, about £0.25 or €0.35) for 250ml. Keeping in mind that most people don't have a lot of money to spare with large families that all need a lot of water during the scorching hot days, Voltic is expensive. Emilie found the Pure Water to taste a little more chemically, but Ben could not taste any difference between the two. And they are equally good.
Breakfast a.k.a. tea:
Breakfast (or “tea”) on the roadside is probably the culinary experience we most enjoyed and whenever we ended up in Accra we always looked forward to our morning delicacy of mixed eggs and vegetables scrambled on the spot into a scrumptious omelet. This is then put between two chunky slices of fresh bread, which is briefly crisped in the pan. With this you can either have your choice of Lipton tea or Milo (Nestle's African hot chocolate).
In other stalls you will also have vendors prepare Koko (Ghanaian porridge), a thick brownish liquid made usually of millet and soghrum. This always comes with Koose, light pies apparently made of pounded beans. We only had this once and preferred the omelet-breakfast by far!
At home, we were given three other types of porridge, as opposed to the Koko. One of them was made out of maize, that was ground the day before on a special wooden sieve, to create minuscule balls. This was then boiled before it was served with sugar. We also one morning received porridge made out of boiled rice, to which they added thick concentrated milk (the one you would use as addition to your tea of coffee as opposed to the ordinary dairy milk, which is not available in Ghana). I think that it was their version of rice-pudding, though much lighter. The last version is what we call porridge at home, but which is referred to in Ghana as oats, but usually pronounced as 'ot. So, the first time we were served it, Ben asked Bless what she had made. “It is oats”, she said and walked back into the kitchen. To which Ben turned to me and said, “I know it is hot, but what is it?”
Despite these being the things that are traditionally made for breakfast in Ghana, Bless always made a large culinary festivity of it and we often got, alongside the porridge, a big plate of cooked pasta and vegetables with fresh bread. At times, she even made us toasties in true Ben-style: the toasted bread was filled with spaghetti! Every person that remembers Ben's very colourful cooking skills during his first year of university will surely appreciate this We were told that she made all this, because she expected that it would be something that Yavoos tended to have for breakfast. We never dared tell her that porridge on its own was more than enough, although we did appreciate how full we were left keeping, especially after a hard day at the construction site.
The favourite type of food found in Ghana is a starchy staple food that looks like a ball of dough. We experienced this in three varieties, although we have been told there are a lot more than that. All of them are pretty much taste-less and therefore always accompanied by a stew, a soup or a heavy sauce for which you use the dough to scoop it out on.
The first one we had was called Banku, which we enjoyed least of all, due to the heaviness of it. It is made out of pounded and boiled maize (corn) with cassava.
The second variation is particular to the Volta Region and therefore one we had (and made!) on various occasions at the host family: Akplé. This can be prepared in two ways to either make it heavy – the Ghanaians favourite – or light and its main ingredient is maize. We obviously always prepared the lighter version, which still managed to fill us up rapidly to the astonishments of the family.
The last and lightest version is Fufu, made entirely from yam. This is boiled and then pounded in a small round wooden ball with a large wooden stick. This process is time-consuming and very hard manual labour. No wonder all of the women are so muscly! Fufu tastes a lot like mashed potatoes, although the texture is different.
I think it would be honest to say that neither of us will miss any of these three foods. Not so much because of the taste, but more so because of how heavy the first two variants lie on your stomach. We always felt guilty when huge portions of them were prepared for us, as we struggled to eat even a few bites. Ghanaians will never have them during the day as they “make you lazy”, but they still cannot seem to comprehend why always had to hand back half of the portions they made for us. Besides this, we always did both enjoy helping the family cook these meals
Another supplement loved by Ghanaians is rice, which you will see prepared everywhere on the roadside stalls always accompanied by cooked or fried chicken, although it is also possible to have it with fresh fish (providing the stall is in close enough proximity of the ocean) or a boiled egg. The rice either comes plain with a dollop of extremely spicy sauce (because of which Emilie ended up in bed on our first day and in this way delay our trip to Denu) or it can be cooked in palm-oil and spicy peppers, which is then called Jollof rice. This usually receives another blob of even spicier sauce, which you are best to avoid if you have a weak stomach.
Fishie on a dishie
Not the greatest fans of fish in general, we both thoroughly enjoyed the fish we were served in Ghana. This was without a doubt due to the fact that fish comes fresh from the ocean. The fishermen go out in their carved wooden boats and unload their catch of the day straight onto the nearby beach, where it is immediately sold to the villagers, which will in turn either use it for their own meals, or bring it around to the nearby houses to sell. The freshly caught fish is then washed and cooked within the same day on a little outdoor fire, which is the best way to prepare it. No preservatives or additives, no special treatment, just straight from the ocean, run under the water and directly thrown on the fire.
The most common and favourite fish is Tilapia, which comes in different sizes. And it is worth mentioning that fish is eaten and served in its entirety in Ghana. So, the first time we had Tilapia in that restaurant in Ho, we were quite astonished to see the head staring right at us. We were about to remove it, when Simon informed us that the head is meant to be sucked to get all of the juices out. We can assure you that we were not very excited about the prospect. Because of the freshness of the fish, the juices are mixed with a high portion of extremely salty sea water, which isn't particularly nice. Beside this minor fact, the Tilapia itself is faultless and we have never appreciated fish as much in our lives!
Before Emilie joined work at the construction site, Ben was offered a different variety of fish of which we do not know the name. We often saw them being sold on the roadside: very small and always crispy, they are eaten in one go. According to Ben it was rather nice.
On the roadside you get offered many forms of dried fruits, baked in (can you guess?) palm-oil and packaged in different sized bags depending on how much you want to nibble on. One evening, as we were driving through Accra, Simon stuck his head out of the window and shouted: “Plantain!” to which a couple of hands reached inside the car with little bags of yellow long crispy things. And from the moment we tried these plantain chips we were sold! Delicious and the perfect snack when you are travelling. But plantain is prepared in several ways, every single form even nicer than the other. After we had been gone for a couple of days in Accra, we returned home to an excited Bless and Portia: “You are welcome! We really missed you, so we made you your favourite!” to which they revealed freshly baked plantain muffins! De-li-cious and perfect welcome-home gift! Simon had told us that something similar was sold on the roadside called Kaklo, but we only ever encountered one vendor selling it. It's mashed plantain fried into a tasty little ball. We thoroughly enjoyed it and even though we asked around every time we passed by the same spot, we never found it again... very sad times for our bellies! Usually, you will encounter fried plantain to accompany other dishes. One of them being Red Red:
Ben's most-liked dish was Red Red, as it combines two of his favourite ingredients: white beans cooked in a large serving of red palm-oil (as with most Ghanaian dishes) and fried plantain. This was best prepared at a road stall in Accra. During our last two days in the capital we tried on two occasions to have Red Red for lunch, but it must have been the vendor's days off as at both times they were shut.
Something that we often got as an accompaniment with either rice or one of the starchy staple food-balls was Okro Stew or Okro Soup, Palmnut Soup and Groundnut Soup. All of which are rather self-explanatory.
We do really miss the experience of eating on the roadside, or at home with the host-family. But to our delight, we found a shop a couple of streets from where we live that sells a variety of African – an to our surprise mostly Ghanaian – foods! We found both ripe and unripe plantain, packets of plantain crisps, a packet to make Fufu the easy way, Milo, groundnuts, Ghanaian palm-oil, dried Tilapia and much much more! We couldn't resist buying some ripe plantain, which we fried this evening. Oh nostalgia!