Every country has its popular dishes that the natives eat every day and visitors are curious to try, perhaps for the first time. Ghana is no exception to this rule, and in spite of much exposure to the world at large the favourites of the ancestors remain the first choices of most people today. In the tourist hotels the standard international fare is available, but if one is fortunate enough to be invited into a Ghanaian home every effort will be made to introduce the local specialities.
In Ghana’s second city, Kumasi, one is likely to be offered the traditional Asante (Ashanti) breakfast, often referred to as ‘red-red’ after the colour of its main components. The basis of this dish in a red bean stew, usually containing a little fish, and ripe plantain, thinly sliced and fried in vegetable oil. This is customarily eaten with gari, made from cassava by fermenting, grating and roasting. Red-red may also be offered in restaurants for lunch or dinner, usually with roast chicken and minus the gari. Most visitors seem to like red-red at the first tasting, although developing a taste for gari may take a little longer.
If a light meal is beneficial, or there is a need to economise, it will usually be at lunch time. This is also the meal that is most likely to be bought off the street. A popular combination is roast groundnuts (peanuts) and plantain chips, with fresh bananas often substituted for the plantain. In season, groundnuts boiled in their shells are widely consumed. The liquid element, apart from iced water, is often supplied by juice sucked directly from fresh green oranges.
Bananas are a major component of the Ghanaian diet. Most bananas on sale today are the commercial plantation variety widely sold in Western countries and mostly sourced in the Caribbean. However, Ghana has a native banana with a much more delicious and fruity flavour. This banana, called asante kwadu or Ashanti banana, was the most widely available variety until the 1970s. During the 1980s, more and more of the bananas on sale were the commercial variety, and by the 1990s there were times when the Ashanti banana could not be found in the market or at the roadside. Nevertheless, the visitor asking for asante kwadu today still has a chance of being rewarded with a unique gastronomic experience.
When it comes to the evening meal in Ghana, fufu reigns supreme. This glorious dough composed of boiled yam, plantain or cassava, subjected to lengthy pounding in a large wooden mortar, is the food that delights the palate and sustains the life of the nation. It is taken with a hot peppery soup which may be flavoured with groundnuts (nkatea nkwan) or palm nuts (abe nkwan). The protein element may be meat or fish, with chicken being popular with those who can afford it. For the rest there is always the ubiquitous large forest snail.
Foreigners often approach fufu with caution; it has an unfamiliar taste and texture, but for those who persevere, it can become a favourite dish. First attempts may be negotiated with soup of minimum pepper and containing chicken. Groundnut soup is often the preferred flavouring of the newcomer, and for those not accustomed to eating snails, these should be omitted.
Another popular food in Ghana is kenke (dokono), fermented corn dough. This is even more an acquired taste than fufu. It is sometimes said that it takes as long for a Westerner to like kenke as for a Ghanaian to like cheese. Just as with cheese, there are varieties of kenke of greater or lesser strengths of flavour. For the beginner, a mild kenke is made in Cape Coast in the Central Region, and for the connoisseur a more potent variety comes from Offinso in Ashanti Region. Kenke can be taken hot or cold with fish and salad, but as a staple food it is often added to other dishes.
This brief review of popular foods in Ghana is very far from comprehensive. Ghana has many tribes and they all have their specialities. The foods mentioned are some of the most widely consumed in the south and centre of the country by the dominant tribal group, the Akans. It may be left to the determined food explorer to uncover the many gastronomic delights of more remote regions.