Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Eat, drink and be merry

Food is one of the more obvious differences among cultures and the source of many a traveler’s troubles when gallivanting around the world.  Given that it plays such a bit part in my travel interests, I thought it was high time to share some of my gustatory adventures in Ghana.

-Two staples of the Ghanaian diet are fufu and banku.  Fufu in Ghana is made from cassava and plantains pounded together to make a gluey paste that is typically eaten by pulling off chunks of it and dipping into a soup like a mini-spoon.  On one of our first Sundays in Ghana, Ellie and Lisa made fufu from scratch.  We even got our chance to use the fufu-pounding stick, as shown in these pictures.  The following weekend was banku, made in a very similar way to fufu but using maize and plantains.  Banku is typically served with okru stew.  Okru is the local word for okra, while my “Basic Twi for Learners” book tells me that okra is Twi for cat.  I’ll be sure not to ask for “banku and okra stew” any time soon.

-One of my favorite local dishes that Lisa has made is red-red, a bean stew served with plantains.  It’s called red-red from the red-tinged oil in which they are both cooked.  Unfortunately, the only red-red that I’ve had away from home wasn’t nearly as good as Lisa’s.

-Ghana’s last colonial rulers were the British.  One of the legacies of their stay is the infamous meat pie.  I’m not really sure what meat is used in the meat pie here.  It’s probably better if I don’t know.

- Eggs in Ghana are not stored in the refrigerator but out in the open, something that concerns me a bit, with my Western view towards avoiding food spoilage.  Seems that I did have some reason to be worried.  The other day, Lisa cracked open a couple eggs and found out that the heat had caused them to start to turn… into chickens.

-Non-alcoholic fermented beverages are very popular here.  Alvaro is a fruity concoction in pear, pineapple or passion fruit that is a particular favorite of mine.  According to the marketing, “Alvaro is targeted at young adults who are fun-loving, sophisticated, adventurous yet are individuals in their own rights and have a quest for that soft drink offering which is naturally unique and makes a statement about who they are.”  Fits me to a T, right?  Guinness also makes Malta, which tastes to me a bit like liquid Vegemite and, much like many beers, is not worth drinking unless it’s extremely cold.

-Speaking of beer, Ghana is not exactly a hot-bed of microbrews, but it’s got a few decent major breweries.  Star and Club are the major lager rivals here.  Star has the more basic beer advertising, with Club having a catchier ad campaign that would probably work in the US.  My personal favorite, though, is Gulder, the darker beer that the sophisticated people drink—or so the marketing goes.  It’s definitely not as widely found as Star (“stah”) or Club, but we have the good fortune of having it delivered to our house in crates as arranged by our house owner.

-Cream crackers are one of the most ubiquitous snacks.  They look a bit like Saltines, have a texture like Ritz crackers, and can come in flavors from plain to vegetable to onion.  On my visits to the schools, I’m often brought a box of cream crackers and an Alvaro or Malta, which also ends up being my lunch some days.

- A true lunch is sometimes hard to come by in my travels to the various schools.  While there are plenty of obruni-friendly places to eat near the various schools, I often don’t want to spend the 45 minutes or more it takes to get served lunch in most places.  So my go-to lunch choice is roasted plantains and groundnuts (peanuts).  Akmed will only buy plantains from roadside sellers who have a very hot fire.  He wants to make sure that the plantains are fully cooked but I appreciate it because I can be sure that anything that would offend my Western system has been killed off.  I’m always amazed at how much food they sell me for a cedi.