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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Friday, May 7, 2010

Something fishy in Ghana

Food in Ghana is as cheap as anywhere we have ever been. In addition to standard street food, Ghana has what are called Chop Bars. This is a deceiving name since most don't actually serve alcohol or have a bar of any kind. Chop is slang for food in at least Ghana and Nigeria. These are buildings that are just a step above eating on the street and are often little more than shacks with a couple of lightbulbs hanging from cords and a stove for the women to heat up the food (men don't actually work in most of West Africa and I have never seen one working at a street food place other than at a grill, which is apparently an acceptable masculine cooking role the world over).

Most of these places have some combination of rice balls (rice pressed together into giant balls), fufu (normally yams or potatoes boiled and then pounded forever until they form a dough like a giant gnocci, or rice with a variety of sauces. Most are not known for their hospitality. The first time we visited one, they really didn't want to help us figure out what anything was. So, we got two rice balls with palm nut soup (palm oil mixed with some spices) because we knew what it was. The funny part about this is that we had just got to Ghana and the woman said it would be "6". As it turns out, Ghana cut four zeros off their currency a few years ago, but apparently most people haven't gotten the message. The woman meant 600 of the old currency, which is about 45 cents, but we thought that food was just expensive in Ghana and that it was 6 of the current currency, or about $4.50. So, I gave her a $8 bill and proceeded to get in a huge fight with her because she said that she couldn't change it. It seemed crazy that she couldn't change it for a $4.50 meal. She finally found change after I told her it was the only way we could pay, and Tara and I were rather embarassed to discover that the real cost was only $0.45, which we could have easily paid for with a coin...

In any case, here were those rice balls with palm nut soup. Very tasty.
Similar to fufu is a staple that is called T.Z. in Ghana. (Pronounced T-Zed if you are a Ghanian or British). We don't know what it stands for or what it is exactly, but we think it is basically like fufu that has been slightly fermented so that it is like a sourdough fufu. This one is pictured with some kind of sauce made out of leaves and a bit of fish sauce. Tara says that it had no leaves and was a peanut sauce. I saw leaves. And it definitely had fish.
After our travels are done, we are likely to be awarded honorary Ph.D.s in fried objects. This one was filled mostly with onion and a bit of fish as well.
This brings us to an important point about Ghana: they absolutely love fish. They use fish like most countries use water. In fact, if you took any recipe that called for water (soup, dough, juice) and added some combination of fish juice and fish pieces, Ghanians would love it. This made it really, really hard for us to buy street food because the conversation always went like this:
Me: Does this have fish in it?
Woman selling food: No.
Me: So, you didn't use any fish to cook this?
Her: Of course I did.
Me: Okay, do you have any item here that you didn't cook with fish?
Her: No, but this one only has fish sauce.

Here is one of the few that I found where I couldn't taste the fish, though I suspect it was in there. This one is beef rice jollof. Jollof is a Ghanian specialty that must translate to something like "spicy tomato fried rice".
Most exciting of all in Northern Ghana was this "apple pie" (more like apple bread pudding) ala mode. It wasn't American pie, but it was really good. Feel free to visit Luxury Restaurant in Tamale the next time that you are in the area.
Speaking of fried things, it is in Ghana that we first found sweet fried things that might be called donuts. These pictured were my favorite and are easily identifiable by the extra-crispy KFC look on the outside. A yummy dough inside. Oh, and for some reason, people seemed furious that we were eating in this market. We really didn't understand since we bought it right there. If anyone from the Kumasi area is reading this, feel free to fill us in.
While walking through the market, we found some ladies with huge bowls of peanut butter. We needed to buy some, so I asked one of the women if I could taste it. She said yes, so I stuck my finger in the huge bowl and tried some. Tara was slightly horrified. Then we bought some. 70 cents for this bag, which makes it on par with American peanut butter, though this is more like natural peanut butter and needs some sugar or a lot of jam.
In Ghana, we tried a product that we had first seen in Burkina Faso--Fan Milk. We originally thought that they just had yogurt and chocolate milk. but would later discover that they also sell ice cream! Here is Tara with a cold strawberry yogurt. Like most things in West Africa that come in a bag (which, come to think of it, is most things), you bite off the corner and suck out whatever is in the bag.
I bought this sucker because the only ingredients were butter and sugar. It tasted disappointingly like a normal sucker and not like a pat of butter with sugar on it.
Here is Tara with Fan Ice! Fan Ice is the soft ice cream made by Fan Milk. For 30 cents, this is the best deal going in Africa. Vendors are everywhere in Ghana, Togo, and Benin, and the quality is very good. We often eat several per day. Eating it is sort of like having your own tiny soft-serve machine--you rip off a corner and squeeze it into your mouth.
In Ghana, one of the most touristy neighborhoods also seems to be the place to go to get fun plantain items. It seemed as though every 10 feet someone was selling a new item, almost always fried, that they told us was made of plantain. We had to try them all. This woman had what might be described as a massive muffin tin with slightly larger holes than a standard tin over a wood fire that she would fill with this batter to cook it. Seemed to be a combination of plantain, ginger, palm oil, and spicy. Rather good.
This is a classic British meat pie. A doughy pastry filled with ground beef and onions with some spice. Not bad, but we have had much better meat pies in other former British territories. We'll let you know about the meat pies of Nigeria if possible.
Back to plantain concoctions. These were shredded plantain and who knows what else deep-fried into a ball. It was a little too cooked for me, but Tara enjoyed it.
One of the difficulties of living with no refrigeration for Tara is that she cannot easily keep cheese unless it is shelf-stable cheese. Most people know Laughing Cow as the most famous example, but Tara actually prefers the Austrian knock-off, Happy Cow. She found some on clearance at a supermarket in Accra and here she is that night with her prizes.
We found this juice that is made by Fan Milk, so we had to try it. I liked it, though it wasn't the best we have had. Sort of like a Sunny-D type drink, but with more sugar added...
While staying at the Green Turtle Ecolodge on the beach, Tara felt compeled to order the Muesli because it had been a long time since she had had anything resembling an American breakfast. She was a bit disappointed by it, but still happy to have an Americanish breakfast.
Also at the Green Turtle, Tara decided to try some of the Happy Hour cocktails. This one was called a Black Star, which is also the symbol of Ghana, so I guess they consider this the signature cocktail of Ghana. I don't know what was in it, but Tara liked it, and it must not have been all that strong since she was able to walk the 100 feet to our room after.
Tara had a different cocktail the second night. This one had one part alcohol and four parts well-blended smurf.
After a long absence from our lives since South America, we were happy to make it back to somewhere with street pineapple. We were able to buy a pre-sliced half-pineapple for maybe 25 cents. It was really, really good. It made us happy just before going to learn about how many million Africans died in the slave trade.
Porridge on the street is popular in Ghana and down through Benin. It differs quite a bit from person to person, though. We had some (no picture) in Accra that was made of corn and had lots of sugar and evaporated milk added. It was a fairly standard porridge in the Western sense of the word. This one is millet, but is more of a drink and had no lumps. It actually remided us of the quinoa drinks in South America, but somehow wasn't as good.
This is red snapper with cassava (yam) and palaver sauce. Palaver sauce is some leaves with palm oil and spicy sauce. Quite good, unlike the fish. Tara, however, did an admirable job of eating the fish until I started to crack its skull open so that she could eat the brains...
One of the best places that we went in Accra was to a local chop bar where you could get some rice balls (baseball-sized globs of compressed rice), groundnut stew (peanuts with oil and spices), and a piece of chicken for less than a dollar. We liked it so much the first night that we went back for a second night.In Northern Ghana, we met a Canadian named Tim who was volunteering in Accra, so we had dinner and some drinks with him in Accra. We really appreciated him showing us around and to the chop bar where we got the great food pictured above.
This one is called red-red. Part of the red might be because of the spicy bean concoction, which you might call Ghanian baked beans (though I like them much better). I don't know what the other red is for, since the other half of the dish is plantains and even when fried in palm oil they aren't really red.A staple dish from street vendors in West Africa is rice and pasta with a sauce of some type. In Ghana, most of the vendors actually use a mix of rice and beans rather than just rice. We ate this for breakfast almost every morning in Accra (you can find almost the same for lunch and dinner) and it costs about 30 cents for a big bowl of it. The concept of breakfast food being different than any other meal doesn't really exist in West Africa.
In the main market of Accra, we found a woman selling fried things that we had never before seen. Shocked that anyone might have a fried object that we had not yet tried, we asked her what it was. At this point, another woman comes running over, shoves the first woman aside, and insists that we buy from her. Ignoring this woman, we asked the original woman and she explains that it has cornmeal and ginger and spices. By this time, the intruder has her friends coming up to us telling us that hers are much better than the woman to whom we are speaking. We bought some from the woman with whom we started and they were really excellent. Sweet, gingery, and fried. Sadly, we never saw them again, so they aren't a common food if you are in Ghana.
At one of the Western-style supermarkets in Accra, Tara found this green apple flavored yogurt. Now, as far as I know, green apple is a made up flavor that can only taste like a Jolly Rancher. Apparently, Tara didn't know this and thought it might have some incredible, authentic apple taste despite the neon green color. She was disappointed to discover that it did not taste like a real apple.
We kept walking by baskets of these nut-looking things, so I stopped and asked a lady selling them what they were. She said some name that I didn't understand and offered me one. She then laughed as I asked how to eat it. But, after learning that you just crack it open and eat it, being careful to spit out the seed, I discovered that these little "fruits" taste a lot like the baobab fruit. We bought a bag of them. Still don't know what they are called.
Plantains in Ghana are often sold just grilled. Plantains aren't as sweet as bananas, so I need them fried to bring out some sweetness. Tara, however, likes many things with less sugar than me, so it is not surprising that she really liked grilled plantains. She also likes the recycling since most of them come wrapped in someone's homework assignment or old newspaper.

Wow, that was a lot of food. When I started this post, I had no idea that we ate that much in Ghana. To summarize, food in Ghana is really cheap. If you can find it without fish, it is also really good.


  1. Andy and Tara...
    It is so great to see you still traveling and amazing us with your unhesitant and daring gastronomical feats! Hope we get to see you on the road again someday. We will be in Swaziland in fall 2012 and you will be welcome to join us!

    Tommy and Mandi
    {The Weak Half of the Bi-Coastal Bad Asses}

  2. Hello Andy and Tara. Enjoyed reading this post, it was really entertaining. I am a Ghanaian living in Ghana and wanted to comment on a few things.
    About men working in Chop Bars. There ARE men there, just that they do the heavy pounding in the back, out of sight.
    The fufu is usually made from a blend of Cassava and unripe plantain, or just yam (cassava is not yam). It is served with any soup (Groundnut/peanut soup, Palmnut soup – made from the palmnut fruit, not the oil and Light soup - which is your basic tomato/onion soup with various spices). In Ghanaian soups, various kinds of meats are put in one soup eg, in palmnut soup, you could put Goat meat, Beef, Fish etc.
    So, when you bought the rice balls (omo tuo), you could have bought meat or fish along with it.
    T.Z is short for Tuo Zaafi. The Tuo is the starchy part of the food and Zaafi is the soup or sauce going with it. Tuo is made from ground corn. If it had a fermented taste, then the corn was fermented before they ground it. The soup does have leaves in it. Some people do add peanut butter (natural) to it, and that might be the type you had. There most likely would have been fish in it.
    If you happened to be in a fishing town, then you would eat fish in abundance. But believe me, Ghanaians LOVE meat!
    About the Kumasi Market … the people were probably marveling at you an ‘Obroni’ (white man) eating a local food.
    And about the peanut butter you were not supposed to dip your finger in because, she was selling it, and you were lucky she didn’t cuss you out. This peanut butter is used for soup, hence the lack of sugar and jam.
    The plantain/ginger/spice combination fried in palm oil is called ‘Tatale’. And the rounded one Tara enjoyed is basically the same just with flour added to it and is called ‘Kaaklo’.
    The Fanmilk drink is called ‘Tampico’ and you drank the mixed fruit version which I agree is not that good, but the original flavor, Orange, is really good.
    The Black Star cocktail was probably invented by the Green Turtle Bar. It is definitely not the National Cocktail. Haha.
    I hope the unlucky Smurf in that green drink was not Smurfette, lol
    The meal you had with the Red snapper and palaver sauce was with Yam not Cassava.
    ‘Kokor’ means Red in our local dialect, it also means ripe plantain. The beans you had are usually made with palm oil and comes out looking red. So you had beans and plantain which we call Red-Red.
    I couldn’t stop laughing about the rice and pasta. That meal is called ‘Waakye’. Its brown rice and red beans cooked with millet stalks which turns the food brown. The tomato stew/sauce also contains fish, meat, chicken, eggs etc the pasta is sort of a garnish, lol ….. You must have really enjoyed it to have it every morning.
    That little baobab fruit you were talking about is called ‘Yoryi’, and yes very nice. It comes seasonally and we all don’t miss out. You could also shell a bunch, put it into a glass with water, stir to dissolve, pour juice off seeds and refrigerate, you will have a cool ‘Yoryi’ drink.
    Honestly I enjoyed reading your post form a foreigner’s perspective of Ghana. I was pretty funny but true. Hope you come back, but next time, look for me so we could get together! Lots more to see and eat.

  3. hope you guys never suffered anything like constipation