Before I begin, I apologize to any Ghanaian that might stumble across this- or any expat living here that takes pride in the local cuisine. For those that enjoy it, turn away now- I am about to give my negative-Nancy perspective on the atrocities plaguing kitchens across the Greater Accra area.
To put it in perspective- I am repulsed by most of my coworker’s favorite dishes. “Kojo! (the name given to all Monday-born males in Ghana) have you tried fufu yet?” “You have not been to Accra until you have had fufu and banku.” These are common questions and statements given to me daily at my workplace around lunchtime. I avoid conversations about it, and claim that I’ve had a large breakfast most days to avoid food outings around my workplace- because there are no recognizable (western) restaurants within a 20-minute walking radius. I’ll admit, I’m a fairly picky eater. I don’t enjoy common foods like tomatoes or pickles- but fare well finding enjoyable food almost anywhere I travel. With no exaggeration, the struggle to find satisfaction while dining in Ghana has been unmatched by any country I have ever visited.
This past week I decided to give some local dishes a shot. Starting with ‘waakye’ – a medley of brown and white rice, spaghetti noodles, beans, tomato paste (stew, as my coworker introduced it), and a hard-boiled egg (or choice of fried meat) – I realized the dilemmas of the local cuisine. Primarily carbohydrates, the medley went down easier than expected – but lacked the enjoyment and satisfaction of indulging in recognized foods. I was startled by the toughness of the “cow” meat that I had asked for in replacement of the hard-boiled egg. Initially, I thought they had given me just a small section of bone with some sauce on it, but as my coworker described – “that’s just how they cook it, with the skin still on.” Then, I was thinking, ‘I should probably gear up for another 36-hours tangoing with stomach virus.’ Despite my paranoia, my stomach lining must have built up some resilience from the destructive ‘Papa’s pizza’ incident that ended Fourth of July early for an unfortunate few (including myself). So, I indulged myself in the eccentric crunch of fried (burnt?) cow skin. Rating: 6/10. Would consider eating again, but questioned the sanity of all those who adore this mosh pit of a carbs, garnished with a decadent highlight of crunchy meat.
The next day, I decided to venture deeper into the unknown flavors (and textures). The mysterious ‘fufu’ had been at the top of my list- so I said, “take me wherever we can get some real Ghanaian, onua (brother).” After a short period of indecision, as there are only 2-3 places to eat within a mile radius- we decided on the place directly next to our office- right next door to the waakye place. Hopes were high. We entered what looked like a cleared-out section of someone’s home, where a woman stood behind a cloudy plastic barrier that separated the food in coolers and Tupperware, from the customers. Another woman sat kneading a dough-like substance with a long stick behind her. This was it, I thought ‘I’m finally going to eat like the locals,’ after having almost exclusively chicken, rice, and French-fries for the past two weeks. After my coworker ordered in Twi for the both of us, I paid for our meal, because he had covered my waakye the day before. I take my seat and am greeted by a woman with a bowl and pitcher of water- waiting to help me wash my hands into this bowl. I knew people ate fufu and other foods with their hands in Ghana, but I was not prepared for the battle against the boiling heat of the broth that the food lies in…