Fufu in Ground Nut Soup
Usually served in a base of Ground Nut Soup, this cassava-based dish is a local favorite. Ground Nut Soup is basically peanut soup, with a thick peanut paste as the base. Vegetables, such as onions, red chilies, and tomatoes, are added and give the soup a spicy kick and an oily texture
Cassava, a starchy root vegetable, is boiled in water and then pounded in a mortar and pestle. Usually, one person will pound the substance while another uses their hand to rotate it in between each smash (which, to me, always appears like a dangerous situation).
To eat it, use the right hand to pull off a small piece and create a small indentation to scoop up some of the soup, then eat. Fufu reminded me of pulling a piece of gum apart as the consistency is quite thick and sticky and there’s no need to chew.
My companion Paul, a local Ghanaian, scolded me quite a few times, saying, “Stop chewing it! It’s already soft!”
I replied, “I can’t help it! When something’s in my mouth I chew it!”
Banku with Tilapia
While Banku may appear similar to Fufu in shape and texture, it is actually quite different. The base of Banku is maize, giving it a corn flavor. In Ghana, the locals grind up the maize and ferment it with water for 4 days to make corndoe. Once the corndoe is ready, water is boiled in a saucepan and the corndoe is added, stirring constantly.
To eat it, the right hand once again is used. This is because in Ghana it is considered offensive to eat with your left hand, as this is used for “cleaning”, which, as my friend Michael from explained, means wiping after you go to the toilet. I never accidentally used my left hand but it was something I was pretty conscious of. Lucky for me, I’m a righty.
Because it is another soft dish, there is no need to chew; you can just swallow as is. While it can sometimes be served in okra soup, I most enjoyed it with a side of hot pepper sauce. Then again, I love anything that sets my taste buds on fire.
Banku is often served with Tilapia. What was most surprising to me when first eating this dish is that the Tilapia comes with the head and scales still attached, and the task of deboning is left up to the eater.
Once you get over the fact that fish still looks alive, it is pretty simply to eat. Use your (right) fingers to peel back the skin and remove chunks of meat (and small bones, which you can leave on the side of the plate).
Red Red with Plantains
While the name may sound like something from The Shining (especially when it is written in drippy red paint against a white signboard) the dish is actually black-eyed peas that are stewed with spices, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and red palm oil. The red palm oil saturates the dish giving it a red hue, hence the name.
I have tried plantains many times: plantain chips, roasted plantains, fried plantains, and I have never been able to get them down. My house mother in Ghana even gave me a baked plantain that was still whole and looked ripened to sweetness, but I still couldn’t get over the tastelessness of it.
However, whenever I had the plantains served with Red Red, I loved them. Fried, sweet, and a bit gooey, they remind me of a dessert rather than a meal. They are fried in oil until they brown and then sprinkled with sugar. Everything always tastes better by pouring sugar over it.
Among my volunteer group, this was hands-down a Western favorite, probably because it tastes a lot like baked beans and bananas, which we were used to from home. Don’t be too afraid of getting messy with this dish, as the host or restaurant will usually supply water bowls for you rinse your hands in, one for before your meal and one for after.
Boiled Yam with Palaver Sauce
I found this dish to semi-resemble boiled potatoes, although they have a stringier texture. The Palaver sauce contains cocoyam leaves, dried fish, spices, red palm oil, tomatoes, and chili pepper, which I liked because I often felt as though I was lacking in one food group or another while traveling. This one had everything. Unless you are in a major tourist destination, it can be hard to find cooked vegetables (at the risk of getting dysentery, I would stay away from raw vegetables).
Palaver Sauce starts with heated red palm oil and water in a pot. Stir and simmer the cocoyam leaves first, and then the dried fish, vegetables and spices. Many times chunks of chicken or beef are also cooked with Palaver Sauce. While this it’s called a “sauce,” I often ate it as a meal on its own; though that isn’t the traditional way of eating it.
This was, by far, the most difficult Ghanaian dish to swallow (Literally! It’s extremely salty and chewy). Snails can either be fried or boiled. Often I saw the snails on kebobs, which would probably be the easiest way to first try this dish as they kind of resemble mushrooms on a stick, although not nearly as soft.
This meal was prepared for me by Issac, one of the boys from the children’s home from where I was volunteering. He had caught and cooked the snail himself just for me and even put the snail on a toothpick, making it resemble a cocktail-party hors d’evour.
I closed my eyes, held my nose (it smells a bit rubbery), counted to three, and took a bite. In return for the snail I made Isaac try some of my Sour Patch Kids that I had brought from home. He looked petrified, licking the tiny candy with the tip of his tongue, gagging and coughing, just as I had moments ago eating snail.