Saturday, 31 July 2010

Exploring Food

26 July 2010
Today I thought I should write some small description of the traditional Ghanaian foods which I have tasted till date.
Generally what I have observed in the Upper East Region of Ghana that all the jobs in the restaurants are done by women. Majority of the small restaurants in Bolgatanga offer only meals and that too for a limited time. The restaurants are known by various names. They are called as spots, bars and chop bars. Generally spots are the places where mainly drinks are served. Bars are the places where drink and some times food is also served and chop bars are the places where only food is served. But it is not a rule and usage of these terms is not strictly followed. The snacks are mainly sold at some roadside stalls or by moving vendors.
One is expected to wash the hands thoroughly before eating and they serve washing bowls, water and soap before they serve the food. Another rule which is similar to the one in India is that one is expected to use only his right hand for eating and use of left hands for eating is considered bad manners.
I shall start with the meals. General Ghanaian affair for a typical meal is a ball of some starchy substance served with a soup. One is expected to take small piece of the ball with all of their fingers, dip into the gravy and take it into the mouth. No chewing is expected and one is supposed to gulp them down. I found that if you keep on chewing it, it is so sticky that you have a feeling of vomiting I am yet to acquire the skill of eating the way the locals do. It seems that the principle of gulping those starchy and sticky substances is actually logical as all these dishes are cooked in such a way that process of partial breaking of starch which happens in mouth when we chew it is already completed during the process of preparation of these dishes.
I have eaten following types of starch balls till date,
Fufu- It is made with cooked tubers such as yams, cassava or some times plantains. Some oil is added and then it is pounded in big wooden mortar and pestle to make a thick gooey ball. It is so sticky that we non Ghanaian VSO volunteers jokingly say here that if one wants to kill a person then just choke him with Fufu.
Banku- It is a ball of partially cooked fermented maize dough. Some times they also add some cassava flour in it. It is less sticky brother of Fufu.
Kenke- It is a ball of cooked maize dough and foreigners like me who are not used to gulping those starchy balls find it better than Banku. It is commonly sold on the streets by the women vendors. It is cooked in banana leaf and has longer shelf life.
(There are some other variants in this but since I have not tasted them personally, I shall write about them some time later.)
Now information about the soups,
Okru soup- It is made from Okra (also known as ladies fingers). Since it is not fried and just cooked in the gravy, the dish is very slimy. So if one eats Okru soup with Fufu, it becomes a doubly difficult task because Fufu is sticky and okru is slimy. Actually if you try okru with plain rice, it goes very well. But my Ghanaian friends disagree with it and they are not even ready to try it.
Bito soup- This is made from leaves of Indian Hemp plant (मराठी: अंबाडी) locally known as Bito. Unlike India, the leaves are cut and soaked in water to remove sourness of the leaves and cooked. They do not eat with rice but I do like it with rice.
Light soup- This is a spicy soup made from meat stock, onions and tomato paste.
Goat/ chicken/ fish soup- This is a gravy dish made from meat of these animals.
Groundnut soup- Light spicy soup made from groundnut paste and meat stock.
Two types of rice are served in the restaurants,
Fried rice- It is similar to Chinese style fried rice and I suspect that it is not an original Ghanaian dish. It is fried rice added with some carrots, cabbage and eggs.
Jollof rice- It is a rice cooked with tomato paste with addition of shredded meat or mashed fish. They praise it a lot as national dish of Ghana but I found it just okay.
These rice dishes are served with some plain cooked noodles (again non Ghanaian) and two equivalents of chutneys. One is called Pepe and made by grinding tomato, chillies and onions together. There is no cooking involved. It is very tasty. Second is darker in colour and made by grinding together shrimp paste, fish sauce, fried onions etc. It is known as
Red Red- This is an all oily dish served as a meal. These are fried chips of half ripe plantains served with cow peas cooked in lot of red coloured unrefined palm oil, tomatoes, meat or fish and spices. Tasty but too oily!
Now something about snacks,
Corn- It is the corn season and every where on the busy roads, ladies are selling corn cobs roasted on charcoal fire as it is common in India. But these are not soft and some of the grains have started to mature so there is a chance that you get popped corns on the cobs. They don't even apply salt on it. But it is something which is safe to eat and one can find easily on the street when one is hungry.
Gmebsa- Try pronouncing it first if you can. I have not been successful in doing it as Gurunes do it. These are made from coarsely ground soaked cowpeas. Small elongated balls of Gmebsa are steamed and then served with a dash of oil and a mixture of salt and chilli. It is heavy to digest and one should not eat too many at once.
Kose- These are deep fried fritters of cowpea bean curd. Taste is just delicious and similar to Udid Dal Vada (deep fried fermented Black gram flour balls made in Konkan region.) They sale it on the street side but I have not found them being freshly prepared and sold so I have avoided it buying them on the street till date. I have eaten them only twice in restaurants.
Guinea fowl eggs- Cooked guinea fowl eggs are commonly sold on the streets. They taste just like chicken eggs but the size is smaller and shell is harder. The membrane and white of the egg keeps loosely attached to the egg shell. Eating it is time consuming, but they say it is a healthy option as guinea fowls are free range animals and not fed on commercially prepared poultry feed.
Kelewele- These are fried half ripe plantain chips. I have found them in Accra but yet to see them in Bolgatanga. It is my most favourite of the Ghanaian food which I have tasted till date.
More updates on my food exploration of Ghana after I taste some more things.