Internships, new friends and weekend adventures aside, one of my favorite parts of this trip has definitely been the food. A great deal of my life revolves around food. My family runs the only certified organic goat dairy in all of Oregon (Fraga Farmstead Creamery, in case you’re wondering *winkwink*) and throughout high school I worked for an organic produce farm. At home, a common weekend activity for me is working the cheese booth at one of the various Portland farmers markets – an activity that often involves the exchange of considerable quantities of amazing food between vendors. For me, food is an interest, a hobby and a lifestyle. Because of this, I have a lot of relationships that originate from food in one way or another. I’ve found this to hold true here in Ghana, especially in the relationships I’ve built with many of my coworkers at my internship.
Going into this trip, I had made it my mission to try as much Ghanaian food as possible. So, on my first day at my internship when my coworkers invited me to go to lunch with them (at which point I was also starving), I accepted with great enthusiasm.
My coworkers asked what I wanted to eat and were very amused when I said I would eat anything. They ended up taking me to a nearby street vendor called “Champion’s.” Champion’s is pretty representative of what street food is like here in Ghana. It consists of a small, shed-type building that always has a healthy line in front. Also, you can get about two meals worth of food for the equivalent of around $2. The food at Champion’s is basically what I’ve come to consider as the Ghanaian equivalent to a burger and fries: fried chicken/fish with rice. The traditional form of rice in Ghana is jollof rice, which is rice cooked with tomato paste and other spices and also, like most Ghanaian cuisine, often has a bit of a kick to it. Another common form of rice here is generic fried rice with vegetables like you might get at a Chinese restaurant. Rice will often come with a tomato-based stew that is often cooked with meat or fish, and if you aren’t phased by a bit of spice in your food, shito sauce, which is a black sauce, the ingredients of which include peppers and fish oil. Even though I had only been in Accra for a week, I’d still had my fair share of jollof and chicken at that point. However I had always enjoyed it so there were no complaints.
Over lunch I told my coworkers that it was important to me to eat as much Ghanaian food as possible during my time abroad. They then made it their mission to introduce me to as much food as possible in the short five weeks I would be there.
In the next weeks my coworkers introduced me to new foods whenever they could. Consistently amused by my ability to handle spicy food, they exposed me to foods in increments of spiciness. After jollof with shito I had waakye (beans and rice mixed with stew, shito, and other toppings), and then fufu (a soft doughy ball of cassava mush eaten with soup), both of which I loved. The only meal they introduced to me to that I wasn’t crazy about was kenke, which is a similar concept as fufu but is made of corn and has a more sour after-taste.
Another aspect of eating Ghanaian food that I’ve enjoyed is eating with your hands. Ghanaian food is by no means what Americans would consider “finger food.” It can get very messy. I had to get used to the concept of spooning soup into my mouth and picking up globs of beans, rice and pasta with my fingers, but once I got past the initial discomfort and messiness, I found it to be an extremely liberating experience.
Having my coworkers introduce me to new foods encouraged me to try more Ghanaian food on my own as well. Mostly by means of hawkers, street vendors who weave between cars in traffic, often balancing large quantities of their wares on their heads. My favorites among these traffic-snacks include fried plantain chips, and bofrots (also called “puff puffs,” and which I was recently informed also have a colloquial nickname that translates to “golden testicles”), which are basically plain, heavy, drop donuts.
Aside from getting to eat some really great food, being introduced to so much of Ghanaian cuisine ended up making it easier to meet more Ghanaians as well. It has always seemed like food is a common origin for a lot of my friendships, which makes sense because who doesn’t love food? And therefore doesn’t enjoy talking about it? Ghanaians love to hear that you tried jollof rice or fufu (and actually liked it), and they will always want to suggest what you should try next. The following conversation can then go almost anywhere.
So the moral of this blog post is: try the food. Between the tastiness you’ll be enjoying and the conversation you’ll be having, you won’t regret it. And as far as getting sick is concerned, just use your best judgment. As long as you don’t eat anything covered in flies or otherwise obviously sketchy, you should be fine. The only time I got sick during this trip was after eating a hamburger at a nice-ish restaurant. I had to miss work the following day. When I had to explain to my coworkers that I had been absent due to being poisoned by a hamburger, they had a good, long laugh and then told me that truly, I must be a Ghanaian at heart (or stomach).