I’m nowhere near qualified to be a food critic. I can’t tolerate hot peppers or even too hot temperatures. I don’t like anything sour or anything that tastes even mildly bitter, which includes coffee, walnuts and dark chocolate. I hate the taste, texture and even the smell of seafood or fish of any kind. But I’m going to tell you about Ghanaian cuisine, or at least as much of it as I know about.
With its roots in extreme poverty, most dishes are prepared by boiling or deep frying. A very limited amount of vegetables grow in this climate, and most farmers can’t afford fertilizer or pesticide to assist them. There are no vegetable side dishes or salads served in village homes or chop bars. You can find salads sometimes in restaurants, but don’t expect much.
Stews will often be tomato based, but there is also okra stew. Add slimy texture to the list of things on my food avoidance list. My clear preference is the peanut sauce, a West African specialty.
Cayenne pepper is the main flavoring used in Ghanaian dishes and is frequently overused to the point that it caused me pain when eating. Not much salt is used, and few spices or herbs grow here. That means they are imported and thus too expensive for most people. It also means there isn’t a lot of variety in the flavors that various dishes have.
Many Ghanaian dishes are a large wad of starch served with a thin soup which has a little meat or fish in it. The starchy portion is either rice or a ball of dough made from corn, yam, manioc or cassava. If the rice is shaped into balls after it’s cooked, it’s called omo tuo.
The dough is sometimes fermented. Fermented corn dough results in banku or kenkey. My nose won’t allow kenkey to get very close to my mouth. (The same goes for a lot of those fancy French cheeses.) There’s also unfermented corn dough. In Togo, it’s called pate. I don’t know what it’s called in Ghana. Because of the type of corn that’s used (field corn, rather than sweet corn, which doesn’t grow here) and because there are no herbs, spices or even salt that I know of which is added to it, I found it not very appealing.
Nonfermented yam dough is fufu. Sometimes it’s mixed with cassava. But there are no spices added to it, not even salt, making it virtually tasteless. The flavor comes from the stew it’s served with. Even with its lack of flavor, I’d choose fufu over pate any time. I also prefer pure yam fufu to fufu that’s a mixture of yam and cassava or yam and manioc.
If you find you don’t really like any of these dishes, you can get grilled chicken with rice pretty much everywhere. There are restaurants in the cities which cater to the tastes of expats, and there you’ll find more variety, as well as in hotel restaurants.
On this trip, I got to try redred, which my friend Veronica made for me. Redred is a tomato based stew made with black eyed peas served with fried plaintains. Veronica doesn’t use much cayenne in her dishes, so I was really able to enjoy it.
My favorite Ghanaian snack is a deep fried ball of bread dough called bofroot. A small amount of sugar is added to the dough, so it’s only slightly sweet. The best ones are on the light side, although you’ll find some that are really heavy, which I refer to as gut bombs. Bofroot are frequently sold by people who walk around with the little boxes with glass windows on their heads. They are either 25 or 50 pesewas each, but I don’t remember exactly. All I remember is that they were cheap and good!