In nearly every place we visit, the cuisine makes up an integral part of our experience. There’s a lot to be said for visiting the monuments, learning the history, and meeting the people, but I almost feel like we understand a place best through its food. So feed us, Ghana! We want to know you…
Our first meal was at an Adabraka institution called Champion Dishes, recommended by the people who run our Airbnb. And the fact that we returned three times in the first week should say a lot. They have different specials every day, and we loved the first so much, we’ve kept returning for more.
So banku was our introduction to Ghanaian cuisine, and I think it did a great job. It taught us that eating with our hands was not just acceptable, but expected, as long as we used our right hands! (The left hand is associated with a different bodily task, and eating with it would be horrifying to Ghanaians.) Banku also familiarized us with the gooey masses so beloved in this country. Other dishes like fufu and kenkey are similar: glutinous balls you have to rip apart and dip into stew.
Banku is made of cassava root and fermented corn. It has a slightly tangy taste, thanks to the fermentation, and is usually served with a bowl of stew, along with chicken, beef, goat or fish. Once you get over the weirdness of eating stew with your hand, it’s both delicious and fun.
Much more recognizable to our palates was Jollof, a type of red fried rice served with meat and veggies. The redness comes from tomato paste and red palm oil, and the dish is spiced with ginger, cumin, onions and salt. This is not just a Ghanaian dish, but one popular throughout West Africa. Apparently, there’s a competition between Ghana and Nigeria for whose is the best.
Okra Soup with Omo Tuo
There’s no consensus on where okra is actually from — theories include South Asia, Ethiopia and West Africa — but one thing we can all agree on: it’s slimy. We had okra soup served with squish balls of rice known as omo tuo, in a rich groundnut soup. I had mine with tilapia.
Another meal best enjoyed with your (right!) hand, the okra added an extra layer of complexity to the task of eating… the slimy texture stuck to our hands and dripped from mouths, over our chins and back into the bowl. I would have felt gross, but everyone else in the diner looked just as sloppy.
Possibly our favorite meal in the first couple weeks was Gari Fotor. I ordered it not knowing exactly what to expect, but loved the result. Gari is made of ground cassava root, and mixed with onions and peppers, then topped with egg and pate, and served along fried chicken. It’s as delicious as it sounds, and although it’s not on many menus, we’ll order it anytime we see it.
Tiger Nuts (Atadwe)
We already knew all about tiger nuts. In Valencia, they’re called chufas, and are used to make the popular Valencian beverage known as horchata. I was shocked to learn that most commercial horchatas sold in Spain are actually made with tiger nuts imported from Africa, instead of those grown in the fields north of Valencia.
You can’t go a block without encountering a woman balancing a tray of tiger nuts on her head, and although they can be ground and used in desserts and drinks, they’re most often consumed raw, as a slightly chewy snack. And if you’re wondering why it seems to be mostly men enjoying them… it’s widely believed here that they increase male potency.