Before I came to Ghana, I had no idea what traditional African food was like, so my tastebuds were in for an adventure. Of course, Ghana does have Western foods, but it is still more common to see vendors selling local food on every street corner. If I had to sum up traditional Ghanaian food in a few words, they would be: spicy, plantains, and community. Besides using lots of pepper and spice, the traditional cuisine consists of stews, meats, beans, cassava, and rice. For example, a typical meal might be jollof rice will bean stew (red red), chicken, and plantains. But more than the food itself, the process of making food and eating a meal together has great significance in building community. In a previous blog, for example, I described my food experience at Auntie Jane’s house. The women and girls of the family spent the whole afternoon pounding fufu and preparing bean stew together. When it was time to eat, my friends and I ate from the same bowl. Auntie Jane explained that friendship is forged between people who eat from the same bowl.
It was quite difficult to get used to Ghanaian food at first since all I was open to eating was fried vegetable rice or jollof rice with chicken. However, keeping an open mind and learning about the importance of food from a local Ghanaian helped me give the local food a chance. So although I might have to often chug down several glasses of water while eating spicy meat stew, here are four Ghanaian dishes you must try if you visit.
- Fufu with light groundnut soup
Fufu is a starchy food made with cassava flour, and sometimes sweet plantain is pounded in with the cassava. A wooden pestle and mortar is used to pound the cassava into fufu dough. Eaten with soup or sauce (e.g. palm nut soup, light soup, groundnut soup), fufu is a sticky doughy ball that is eaten with one’s fingers. Usually some type of meat (goat, chicken, beef) is added to the fufu and soup.
- Red-red with plantains
Red-red (or bean stew) has to be one of my favorite Ghanaian dishes. Made with black-eyed beads, red palm oil, and tomato paste, red red has a slightly thick consistency, and is a delicious option for bean lovers. Fried plantains are very common in Ghanaian dishes and can be seen being sold on the street. The perfect blend of spicy firmness from the beans and sweet softness from the plantains makes this meal so darn good.
- Jollof rice
Jollof rice is a staple in Ghanaian cuisine. Made with tomato puree, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and various spices, jollof rice can also contain vegetables or meat. This versatile dish is eaten in several different ways — with meat and other side dishes or simply on its own. Keep in mind, jollof rice can be quite spicy as well. It is easily found in any fast food joint on the street, so if in doubt, order jollof!
Originating from Northern Ghana, waakye is composed of rice and beans, and is traditionally served on a large banana leaf. Its purply-reddish brown color comes out when millet leaves are added while the waakye is being cooked. This beautiful soft dish is usually served with pasta noodles, gari powder, and shito, and is eaten with the hands. Ghanaians use their fingers to pinch a bit of waakye, pasta, and other accompanying sides to eat together in one bite. Waakye can easily be found on the street or in fast food restaurants.
I’ve frequently enjoyed many of these dishes while here in Ghana. Although at first, Ghanaian food looked so foreign and unappetizing, I was able to overcome my initial preconceptions and try these delicious foods. Studying abroad has definitely helped me to open my mind and try things that are out of my norm.