Food

Let me state the obvious. The food here is different. What I hadn’t realized is how acclimated to the food I have become until I was talking to a friend on the phone and described my dinner. Later in the conversation I asked him how he was doing he said “My food is better.”

 

‘What was wrong with your food?” I asked.

 

He replied “Nothing it’s better than yours. No leaves or fish eyes!”

 

I had said I was having vaata jenta, leaf soup and fish. I mentioned picking out the fish eyes because Ghanaians often mash the whole fish into the leaf stew. I was just use to it.

 

First many of the ingredients are different.  The greens are leaves or kontumari.  The corn is not sweet but ferments easily. Fermented corn dough is used in many dishes here. Garden eggs are a bit bigger than an real egg. They are yellow and they are shaped like an eggplant. (There is a photo on m flickr account) They are a bit like an eggplant in texture but they have a stronger almost bitter flavor. There are some seeds, agushi i think, that are ground up into a flour and used to thicken stews. Although I recognize some of the fish the fish is usually dried or smoked or salted. Goat meat is very popular as well as bush meat. Bush meat is any wild animal like grasscutter or antelope etc. Papaya is one native fruit.  The yam are like no yams I have ever seen so i’ll put them here in different foods! And casava, I like boiled casava very nice texture and flavor. The snails here are huge, as big as my fist. They do not taste as slimey as the ones back home. Oh yes and palm nuts and shea nuts.

 

There are also many familiar foods here. Mango, pineapple, oranges, limes and lemons, banana and apples. But the apples are imported and I have not yet eaten them. Chicken, beef, and salmon are familiar sources of protein. Thank goodness there are tomatoes. The other vegetables are carrots, okru (okra),(flickr photo) onions, garlic, cabbage, american or green peppers, peppe or chili peppers,  potatoes, corn on the cob, string beans, lettuce and cucumbers. There is white rice. A whole array of beans can be found at most markets. There are also many kinds of flour, corn flour, wheat flour.  Many familiar spices like nutmeg, black pepper, salt, and others. One fresh fish are small small crabs. they are no bigger than the palm of my hand. I will have to watch a Ghanaian eat them to figure out where the meat is!

 

Preparation of the food is very different.  My sisters in Suhyen cooked on a coal pot, used a grinding bowl and long metal hooks to help them cook. The coal pot is a stove. It’s black metal.  The base is a cube with one side open and the top open but covered with a grate. Four pieces of metal extend out and up from the sides of the base making the cradle for the coal. The shreaded shells of the palm nut (as kindling) are put in the base of the coal pot. Coal is put on top with small small palm nut kindling. The kindling is full of oil so they light quickly and burn long enough to get the coals going. The kindling is help along with a fan. My sisters would wave the fan so fast to make the fire burn hot and once the coals started to catch they would wave even faster! Finally the coals are going and they set the pot right on top of the coals.

 

The grinding bowl is wood and has ridges about a quarter of an inch apart all on the bottom and sides. There is an hour glass shaped pestle.  Each end fits nicely in the palm of a hand. I have seen my sisters and the girls at school use this grinding bowl and pestle to puree tomatoes, steamed garden eggs, garlic etc. It works as well as a blender if and this is a big if If you have the skill necessary to do it. I watch them and it looks like they are doing this elaborate dance along the sides and bottom of the bowl with the pestle and the food. It’s very cool. I will learn.

 

Many foods like fufu, banku and tee zed are stirred.  The home sized pot that they are cooked in has a handle on either side. the long metal hooks are hooked around the handles then the other end is placed on the ground. My teacher, Agatha, then sat on a stool in front of those two metal hooks and put each foot on one. when she did this the pot tipped just enough so she could then stir the tee zed.

 

Fufu, banku, kenke, tee zed and rice balls are all big sources of carbohydrates. Yam in the south and casava in the north are also carbs. These are often served with a stew. It’s not really a stew like we imagine but rather a mixture of greens, veggies and oils. The veggies are pureed in the grinding bowl then cooked in the oil with the greens. The meat or fish is cooked over the coals then put beside the carb and the stew is in the bottom of the dish. Sometimes the fish is smashed up into the stew like the example in the beginning of this blog.  If you go to a chop bar and you order one kind of carb, the kind of stew and what meat or fish you want. The stews are kuntumari, ground nut, palm nut, and light soup here in the south.  This can be eaten with hands. Amazingly Ghanaians and older PCVs can eat all the stew with their hands and scooping with the carb.  I cannot do that yet so i use a spoon to finish my soup.

 

I have also had kenke with tomatoes and onions cut up or rice with the same and some fish. I will mix my veggies and fish into my rice. I eat the kenke by taking a piece of Kenke in my right hand and adding some tomato and onion then eating it all.

 

Beans are also popular.  I have had the PCV favorite of red red. It’s beans in palmnut oil which is red and fried plantains which are red somehow!  It’s very good and not too spicy!  There is also waachi which is beans and rice with meat or egg.  Chicken and rice is often served to us when we go to a dignitaries or for special occasions. There are fast food and they have jollof and fried rice. You can get either with egg or meat. The fried rice is really not like American chinese fried rice it’s more Ghanaian chinese! Last night my fried rice had cut up hot dogs or what the Ghanaians call sausage.

 

What I crave the most are veggies. The Ghanaians eat veggies but not very much at one time and often they are pureed in a stew. It’s nutritious for sure but I miss the taste and texture of individual veggies. Even when they are not pureed there is very little veggie to carb. For example, on my last night my sister, Portia, made me spagetti.  A large bowl of pasta, some oil on it and garlic and onions. Then cut very small and scattered through out the pasta were specks of orange, green and red – carrot, american pepper and tomato. It was tasty. I am not complaining but just explaining. I think veggies are expensive to buy compared to the carbs so they use them sparingly. And I think in their active lifestyle they burn a lot of carbs.   Even cooking and washing clothes takes much more energy than we use and add to that the fact that they walk a lot more than we do and that farm work is very labor intensive you get people who need carbs.

 

I will continue to eat Ghanaian food and enjoy it but I will also be happy to be cooking for myself and eating more veggies.

-vc

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

  1. Helen (Queen Aveline!) said,

    September 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Hey Vicky!
    When I cook eggplant here, I salt the raw slices and let them sit for about 1/2 hour and that draws out some of the bitterness. Try that with your garden eggs!
    XOXO
    Helen


%d bloggers like this: