by Tara Cavanagh, Working Abroad Program Manager
Part 4 of the Volunteer in Ghana blog series
One question I always get from participants who sign up for our Volunteer in Ghana program is "What can I eat while I'm there?" Even if you're a picky eater, you will be able to find something to satisfy your palate in Ghana. Fresh "exotic" fruit abounds in this country and can be purchased everywhere. There are many traditional dishes to try-fufu, banku, kenkey, pumpuka; less "traditional" dishes-rice, beans, chicken, cole-slaw, red-red; and finally, if you really are the worlds most picky eater, you can have spaghetti with red sauce or burgers and fries. I wish I could say that I was more adventurous in my food selections. I did try some of the local dishes, but not all, and I found myself eating a lot of rice, chicken, fish, fruit, etc.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we've been told, and it seems to be pretty substantial in Ghana too. Since Britain colonized Ghana and morning is a cool time of the day, I would guess that breakfast is a pretty big meal-though I can't say for certain as I took my breakfasts with my Ghanaian hosts solo. For my first breakfast in Ghana I was served eggs, tea/coffee, baked beans, fresh fruit, fruit juice, bread, and meat. What one might find in the USA or UK, though the taste of the food was slightly different. This breakfast seemed to repeat itself in some form or another at the hostel. It was only when I visited my host family that I was able to branch out into other Ghanaian dishes. My host mother told me about a traditional porridge made from millett called pumpuka that people like to eat for breakfast. She warned me that it was bitter and did not plan to make it for me as most Westerners do not like the dish. I expressed my interest in trying the pumpuka and the next morning there was a lovely hot bowl of porridge at the table. I woke up later than everyone else at my host family, who all got up just before sunrise, and found myself eating alone and listening to a political radio show. My host mom was not joking that it would be bitter-it was about one of the most bitter dishes I have ever eaten and I had difficulty finishing it. Apparently there are many other Ghanaian dishes that one could eat for breakfast which I did not have the opportunity to try. From years of Western volunteers complaining about the food in Ghana, it seems that the hostel and the host families have really modified what they serve to us Obronis (white people or foreigners).
Another traditional dish that I had the pleasure of trying was fufu, which I ordered for lunch on my first day in Ghana -I had to jump into the local cuisine immediately! It takes two people to make fufu and the result is a paste-like, gelatinous substance. It's usually served in a tomato soup with chicken or goat meat. I got goat meat, since I love it and never have it here in the U.S. It's taboo to eat fufu with anything except your hands, although you can use a spoon to suck up the soup. There is a little bit of a ritual involved in eating fufu. First you receive a bowl of water to wash your right hand in, soap and a cloth are provided; then you dig in-with your right hand only! Ghanaian's never use their left hand as this was traditionally the hand used to "take care of business." I found it difficult to eat the goat meat with just my right hand-I had the constant urge to take it by both hands and devour it; the goat meat was delicious. The fufu was different than anything I've ever eaten. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the fufu as much as I enjoyed the goat meat or as much as our Ghanaian guides did. One big problem for me was texture, since most of us westerners don't like gelatinous foods. The second problem was due to a very strong spice in the dish, which had been overpowering while we walked through the Makola market. My association with the spice had triggered something and I had trouble fully enjoying the fufu because of it.
Like in many developing countries, the water in Ghana is not safe to drink. In fact, 70% of disease in Ghana can be attributed to poor drinking water. However, there is plenty of bottled water available and outside of Accra you will find suitable drinking water being sold in small pure water sachets, which costs about one cedi, the Ghanaian currency, to purchase a bag of about 20 sachets.
Other dishes I loved were chicken and jolloff, a type of rice; fried plantains; red-red, a dish made with fish and spices mixed with jolloff; and I got to experience Tuo Zafi, rice balls….mmmmm! ☺ I also drank tons of Coca-Cola since theirs was made with real sugar and not the corn syrup we have in our Coca-Cola here in the U.S. The longer you spend in Ghana, the more opportunity you will have to try these delicious dishes, especially if you are living with a host family. You may not like everything that you try, but there will be a few dishes you will miss when you get back to the states, for me it was the rice balls and red-red. A week was simply not enough time to learn about, or taste, all the different dishes in Ghana.
A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.