Friday, December 11, 2009

Frustration sandwich on rock bread

Sandwiches are a very rare breed of food in Ghana. You’d think that it took an inordinate amount of talent to come up with the humble recipe of two slices of bread and some filling.

But truly. It is a feat in Ghana to find such an offering at a restaurant. In all my years here, all the restaurants (I’m sure I’ve been to most), … sandwiches are just not there on the featured list.

Which is why a quick business lunch in Accra is never just that. It either involves a trip to a local ‘spot’ with heavy fufu and soup, banku, oily sauces and stews and the inevitable mountain of rice… OR a lengthy visit to one of the city’s upscale restaurants, with their full dinner menu on offer. Who wants lamb tagine for lunch? A big bowl of spaghetti? Pepper steak with chips and hot veggies?

NO! Just a simple tuna sandwich please. Bread, can of tuna, mayo… should I come in the back and assist? No problem. And can we speed this experience up a bit?

Here might be the juncture to explain that there are literally no fast food chains in Ghana. Well, except for a few South African ones and the emphasis is NOT on fast.

So yesterday when we had a consultant in-house, and needed to pop out for a quick bite, it became all the more frustrating.

We have discovered ONE little place, Cuppa Cappuccino, that makes sandwiches in our area. The trouble is that, with the scarcity of sandwich shops, EVERYONE has found the same place. When we arrived it was like a convention of 4x4’s (the choice vehicle for the NGO’s and corporates here), and walking in was like a meet and greet the who’s who…

The waitresses struggle on a good day at this place, so they were basically swamped (though not in the slightest bit concerned), and there wasn’t a seat in sight. Many people mulled shoulder to shoulder around their cash out and serving station, making the whole place feel like a sardine tin from the inside.

It would be over an hour before we’d get a seat, order and be served. It just wouldn’t do.

We made one of those decisions (that you know are bad right away), to try the place we’d seen recently renovated just up the road and around the corner. Mabella’s Nest.

I now know why we stick to the devil we know. We arrived behind a huge delivery truck and navigated our way in (after having to inquire whether they were even open), over beer cases and boxes…

There wasn’t a soul inside. As a first impression, the dim green lighting, fans beating away like caged birds, with only a narrow passage way to sit in, only made us cringe further.

I knew we were in trouble. We should have just taken it as a sign we needed to diet, and headed back to the office hungry - but we had a guest in tow!

We sat. The place is basically a bar. A pool table fills out the place like a swimming pool, with a sliver of space for the tiny tables along the bar. Obviously the food aspect of this place was an afterthought. The cheap Chinese hollow silver chairs creaked and moaned under us.

Then the menus came. They had the usual dinner fare, but there were actually a few sandwich options – for GH10 – 12!! (At about USD $7 – 10, it was more than double the price of Cappuccinos).

The waitress, a pubescent and reluctant girl, with a syrupy slow manner jotted down our orders. Two clubs and a cheese sandwich.

Luckily we were busily chatting, because after 30 minutes a man appeared to tell us that the chef (chef?! in an empty bar, making sandwiches) noticed he was missing some vital ingredients. This is actually a very common Ghana restaurant problem. We said fine, please make due.

Another 30 or so minutes later (that adds up to an hour folks, for overpriced sandwiches!), we were brought the plates, one by one at 5 minute intervals, from the far away kitchen.
They looked like sandwiches, and sort of smelled like sandwiches. But upon touch, we knew there was something very wrong. They FELT like Styrofoam blocks. Rock hard and crumbly.

Now I don’t entirely blame them – here I blame the Brits. They imported some bread making recipe during colonial days that is missing something important, like perhaps eggs? The bread in Ghana (except for special browns) is pretty vile. Locals call it butter bread, but it’s like softer Styrofoam. (The French on the other hand brought the lovely baguette to the region).

Looks like Mabella took some stale butter bread and laid it out for an hour on a low broiler. It wasn’t toasty brown, but it was rock hard. Taking a bite caused a mass avalanche of bread chards and mystery food bits on the plates, our laps, and down my top! We spent the mealtime apologizing for how messy the food was, as it was causing a diversion from our chit chat.

JW ordered the cheese on baguette and they had managed even to destroy that. Rock hard and gum damaging.

So in the end, I can’t blame the Brits. I had to blame Mabella. I hear the place is owned by an Aussie actually, so I definitely blame him!

Interestingly our guest told us that in the past he’d visited this place with an ex, and they’d left since it had a stripper’s pole in the corner. Well that’s gone now, but nothing and no one has replaced it.

Mabella’s Nest was a den of shame. A pathetic excuse for a restaurant that I can only hope does better as a bar. I'd rather have gone to the dentist than this place, and after the bread, I might have to! It was wrong from every angle and an experience I wouldn't wish on many...

If I had an inkling of 'restauranteur' in my blood, I’d open a place here that made sandwiches. Quickly, Efficiently. For a good price… but I don’t. And this is Ghana afterall. What would we complain about if everything worked perfectly?
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Miss Angie said...

That really sucks! I'm sorry you can't find a good sandwich!

Anonymous said...

I thought you were going to tell me the club house came with a chunk of spam and a fried egg. Hee hee.
Love Aunti T

enyonam said...

You have my sympathy.. Some of these restaurants have club sandwiches on their menu. At least I remember seeing that on Papaye's menu once.

Then again, I think you should try Fresherz at East Legon. I hear they have good snacks made up of veggies.
Maybe you will get some sandwiches there.

Betty said...

Not even a good sandwiche!

mangotree said...

you can get an excellent sandwich in Burkina, many street vendors in all the towns sell them, half a crispy fresh baguette, avocado, meatballs, liver, fish, egg, tomato and onion filling, and a sprinkle of Maggi on top ;-)
But no self respecting Burkinabe will have just a sandwich for lunch. Sandwich, no matter how big, can only be a snack. Only rice or tô (like fufu, omo tuo, kenke) can fill a wo/man stomach.

Anonymous said...

A world without sandwiches. The mind boggles.

GutsyWriter said...

I could feel the entire situation as though I were sitting next to you in the restaurant. Very well written. I know what you mean about the bread. In Belize we rarely had grainy type bread, and I never saw a sandwich shop. There's an opportunity for you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pale Observer, just wanted to wish you Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!
I am glad that I "met" you!!

Anonymous said...

Suggestion: review your experience on the Bradt Guide to Ghana update site at
Heaven forbid if anyone else should happen on the place...

Anonymous said...

I really do feel your pain. But did you know that you could call CC ahead of time and order your sandwich so it is ready by the time you get there? My friends and I did it all the time and it was AWESOME!

The pale observer said...

Anon - I do know this and it's what we normally do at CC - BUT this time we had a visitor and we didn't have a menu, so we had to go there before ordering... NEVER AGAIN! :)

Gill - That British Woman said...

so I'm guessing Starbucks, Second Cup or even Tim Hortons, haven't opened up a branch in your area yet? LOL

You could make a killing opening a restaurant catering to the expats..mind you finding the ingredients to make the actual sandwiches may prove difficult.

Gill in Canada

Amy E. Zimmer said...

Hi Holli,

Oy. We know the exactly place. We went there when we were the only customers and the waitresses struggled then! I went all the way out to Beyin and ordered groundnut paste and jam on bread. Better than expected! I got Black Cat peanut butter and 3 sliced bananas! Yum! If you want a very quick, well priced sandwich and a nice meeting place--come on campus between 12 and 1pm--Sunshine catering makes fabulous sandwiches and the benches beside the field are lovely and quiet before student lunch hour!

Happy holidays! Amy

blunt edges said...

god! i hope u find a sandwich joint soon...all the best holli!

Expat mum said...

Perhaps they were trying to imitate a panini?

Debbie said...

You could make a mint opening that restaurant. Maybe you should rethink.

Land of shimp said...

Goodness, sounds less than appetizing. Perhaps butter bread is half weapon/half ration? I swear, a lot of British food is like that (my mother and brother are both from Scotland, I fear meat pasties more than almost any other food...yes, even haggis).

I'd be so lost in the world without good bread. Sandwiches I could probably learn to live without, but bread? Yup, I can go about two weeks without bread, then it's every man for himself.

Eyram said...

Hi, let me update you on the increasing opportunities to have a sandwich for lunch.

Sunshine Cafe- Osu, Labone.

Melting Moments- Cantonments near Morning Star School- fav of expats.

Ensalada- (deliveries only) she does free delivery in Accra and is cheap about ghc 3-5(and tasty lovely baguettes too) personal favorite 0243834378 0275765256.

Churcheese- labone, nice too.

La Galette- Spintex road opposite papaye -lovely stuff!

Have a great sandwiched' week! lol 1 for every day!

kristine said...

haha, you actually really have me craving a sandwich!

The pale observer said...

Thanks for the suggestions Eyram! I knew all of these except for Ensalada - and will definitely check her out!

My problem is that all of the others end up to be over an hour in traffic to get to during the day (from my office in Airport residential) - sometimes both ways!!! So my second complaint is the crowded roads!!! :)

Sam said...

A thing of BEAUTY. I know what I'm talkin'bout! Really Nice Sandwich here. ANd your blog is very cool too. When you have time, come and see my blog. I'd be proud and honored to have you as a friend/follower. Happy New Year, Keri (aka Sam)

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