Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fufu or bust - a culinary visit to Ghana

I’ve always liked food that is both exotic and fiery in the pepper department. This is either in spite of, or due to the fact that I grew up a middle class Anglo Canadian – typical supper fare was slightly overdone pork chops, apple sauce, potatoes and a vegetable. Salt, pepper and ketchup populated the world of spices I knew.

In highschool I met a whole new world in the form of Caribbean immigrants and the amazing foods they ate at home.

Oxtail stew, jerk chicken, goat roti – these quickly became my favourites. The hotter the better.

In 1997, years after my first introduction to the many flavours (and peppers) of the world, I came to Ghana. I knew that one of the most important aspects of acculturation for me would be the food. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Ghanaian food is culinary world in and of itself and it’s citizens hold it as dear as their flag and anthem. To be Ghanaian is to eat fufu, banku, kenkey.

And there is no shortage of pepper. The soups, the stews and even the sides of fresh pepper with everything – just the thought of it gets my temples sweating and my mouth watering.

Below, a sample of Ghana food at it’s best (next installment will be the stranger, more difficult to get used to dishes!):

Ghanaian dishes usually consist of a starch as the main component, with an accompaniment of soup or stew.

Banku is my favourite. It's literally a ball of maize that has been processed and fermented - giving it a vinegary taste like one of my other favourites, Ethiopian injera.

Here is a pot of banku being made.

Banku is eaten either with a okro soup (quite slimy and definitely not one of my favs), or with fish and raw hot peppers, ground with tomato and onion. CUTLERY IS NOT ALLOWED! This is a 'dig in with your hands' affair!

Arguably the best Ghanaian dish ever (in my mind) - is banku with tilapia fish. You get the whole fish - no fillets in Ghana! Again, it's all about sharing and eating with your hands. YUM!

Here's a bowl of fufu. This is Ghana's national dish. The fufu itself is made of boiled and pounded starches - either plantain and cassava or yam. There are three main soups that it can be submersed in - groundnut (yes, peanut soup!), light soup (a pepper and tomato broth) or palm nut soup (made from the pulp of palm kernels). There is a real art to eating fufu and most obrunis are hopeless at it. The object is to plunge your hand into the hot soup, pull of a bit size piece of the fufu, manipulate it to crate a little well where a bit of soup can sit, and plop the whole thing in your mouth and swallow. No chewing! Personally i can't do it. So in order not to gag at the table and cause concern and disgust in all around me, I abstain... The soups are great though. Peppery and flavourful...

Kenkey is the food of the Ga tribe - those along the coast, in the main city Accra. It is similar to banku, in that it's made of maize, but it has a grainier texture and is made and stored in either corn husks, or in banana leaves (fante kenkey). It's served with fish and pepper. Filling and simple and transportable. A practical and filling food.

Then there's red red. This dish is usually the favourite of the less adventurous visitors. It is not as spicy as the others and the tastes and textures are less 'foreign' to obrunis. Red red is named for the red of the beans in the bean stew, and the red of the fried plantains that accompany the stew. The sweetness of the plantain compliments the rich bean stew perfectly. This is a delicious dish that is definitely NOT for the diet conscious. If anyone bothered to calculate calories in Ghana, I'm sure this dish would be off the charts! It could easily take on a Super Size Big Mac meal!

This dish is called omo tuo - which literally translates as 'rice gun' - but no one can explain why... The white ball is rice that has been well cooked and then pounded into this shape, to be submerged in soup. It's Ghana's answer to dim sum or the north American brunch. On any given Sunday around the country, you can pop into the little designated canteens and feast on omo tuo. The ladies will have bowls of soups and different types of meat, fish etc., and you basically build your own.

Here is a feast of apem (unripe plantains, boiled) with palaver sauce (a stew made with crushed pumpkin seeds, kontomire which is in the spinach family, and of course hot pepper, tomato and onion). The amazing buttery avocados in Ghana make a great accompaniment. Hands only, the more the better to share... Yum!

Wachee is a staple food in Ghana. Sold at many roadside stalls, it is the fast food of the people. It is made of red beans cooked together with rice, giving it the characteristic brownish appearance. It's another build your own deal, where you can choose from macaroni, tomato stews, boiled eggs, fish, meat and gari (a powder made from dried cassava).

Ampesi and garden egg stew is basically boiled unripe plantains (which taste a bit like boiled potatoes) with a stew made from small local yellow eggplants/aubergines. Fish is usually the meat in this stew. I like to make it with canned tuna - no fish bones for me!!!

Abolo is another maize based food - much less dense than banku or kenkey. It is like a semi sweet fluffy pancake that's eaten with tiny tiny fishes - pictured here - which are called 'one man thousand'. The fishes are deep fried and taste like some sort of chips.

Here is a snack that is as moreish as you can get. Roadside sellers can be seen every evening, cooking up a batch. It's called kelewele and is basically chunks of sweet ripe plantain, rolled in a mixture of garlic, ginger and hot pepper, then deep fried to a dark crispy brown, while the inside stays soft and sweet. It can be eaten alone or with groundnuts (peanuts), or pictured here with the local ice cream, Fan Ice. Delicious.

Last but not least is the grill. Ghana is obsessed with kebabs. Most events serve or sell various grilled meats, and most famous is the kebab. Ghanaians have perfected a dusting powder for the meat, made of hot pepper powder, peanut powder and garlic and ginger, that coats and browns on the meat. It's great. The only problem for me is when the meat itself is cow skin or goat head... but that's another post! :)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jonezing for Grace - Part 2

Ever since my Grace Jones post earlier this week, I've been on a bit of a Grace binge. I've been gobbling up her old music and reminiscing on that time of my life as the rhythms rush over me. Nothing like music brings you right back to where you were, like a soundtrack to your life...

I also bought a great Grace t-shirt on eBay and went Googling around on her fan sites. Found a great one called Fuck Yeah Grace Jones here. Anyway, I found a few more tributes to the Island Life album and thought I'd share them below, before moving on to another obsession.


Here is an art piece I'd love on my walls.

And another one - LOVE THIS! It's made with Vanity Fair collage pieces!

Here's a pretty sad entry from Vince Volta (legend in his own mind?), from his own blog The Mannequin's Closet...

And what's a Grace Jones tribute wall without a rendition in clay? :)

Just don't know what to say about this one! LOL

Grace, gracing your walls - Interior design triumph!

And lastly an art project that went right. I like it.

Once I get my Grace t-shirt I think I'll be over the phase... except I just want to share a couple more from another great album cover, Slave to the Rhythm.

The kick ass original:

A couple excellent art pieces:

Electric Grace in the pink grass...

A couple album look-alikes:

And finally, a tribute in fruit!!! You gotta love it.

Work all day, as men who know,
Wheels must turn to keep, to keep the flow,

Build on up, don't break the chain,
Sparks will fly, when the whistle blows,

Never stop the action,
Keep it up, keep it up,

Work to the rhythm,
Live to the rhythm,
Love to the rhythm,
Slave to the rhythm...

Have a great weekend.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Grace Jones the tribute series - Tro tro to Lego

There is a grape-ice cream purple tro-tro** that whizzes around Accra on a daily basis, transporting it’s cramped passengers, sardine-tin style, from here to there. On the grimy back window, in bold white stick-on, it says: GRACE JONES.

I love this for so many reasons. As I caught a glimpse of it yesterday at a crowded round-a-bout, I grinned at the randomness that is my experience of Ghana. So many things are transported across cultures and time periods, that their significance is lost or warped to such a degree, it gains a new meaning altogether... Last week I saw a refuse disposal truck called ‘Annie Lennox’, but I digress.

Grace Jones was an icon to me in the 80’s, she represented a bold, defiant, androgenous beauty that spat in the face of the Farah Fawcett, Cheryl Tiegs ideal that we were fed in the media. Guys were somehow acceptable as the effeminate lace and make up wearing crooners, but women were largely in their box. Grace Jones sang off the wall music, and she was strikingly gorgeous in a scary, angular, aggressive way. I loved her.

So every time I see that old mini bus - so many years later, so far away, in such a different context, it makes me smile. I have to wonder what the driver’s inspiration was, in taking the time to paste those decals up there. I guess he thinks Grace is pretty cool too.

This all brought my mind back to Grace and her amazing, iconic album covers, which I looked up on Google in that nostalgic way. Her one album, Island Life, photographed and engineered by her partner Jean-Paul Goude, was my favourite. What I found, I thought worth sharing. It seems many others were so taken by the image, that they decided to do their own takes… with some um, interesting results ☺ Enjoy!








Ok, I admit it... strange things amuse me.

**tro-tro - Ghana's answer to the non-existent public transport system. Private (usually old and rattling) minibuses that are used on set routes around the cities and towns, seating capacity is 12, passengers are usually between 15 to 25, plus chickens, sometimes goats... anything goes :-)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Aid for Africa: End the Sick Cycle

When is everyone going to address the elephant in the room when it comes to the failure of aid to Africa?

African government regimes!!! The blatant corruption and flagrant disregard for their citizens is appalling, but what is worse is the complete lack of accountability when it comes to the shoveling of aid money directly into the coffers of these self serving governments, by the West.

Luckily Wikileaks did not spare Africa or the farse of the aid efforts in it’s recent exposures. In fact, some disturbing specific examples of how aid money goes into private pockets was highlighted.

British taxpayers should take a keen interest in the fact that over GBP20 million has been siphoned off of aid funds destined for peace keeping efforts in Sierra Leone and education in Kenya. Top ministers instead bought hordes of plasma televisions, rifles and thousands of other luxury items. Meanwhile the poor get poorer.

The most frustrating aspect of this story is that DfiD, the UK government’s development funding wing, is fully aware of the thefts, and believes that it is ‘within reason’. Within reason?! Is this what we have come to expect, rather nonchalantly from African leaders?

Isn’t that assumption inherently racist? Why do Bono and Bob Geldof spend hours in front of cameras in the West, appealing to the guilt in all of us, and expect zero accountability on the part of those who have the power in Africa?!

It is a blood boiling shame that aid has never had the aim of ending poverty or helping the powerless. It is an industry, a game that is played in huge nauseating circles, and success is measured in how many millions are spent on new Land Cruisers for the actual projects, and whether that number is higher than what the minister took for his private jet or holiday home abroad…. Germany recently took a stand, and held back their annual Euro200 million funding to the UN backed Global Fund Aids, TB and Malaria after a massive corruption scandal.

Given this sick cycle of corrupt fund transfers, I was pleasantly surprised to meet a representative in Ghana last week from the Acumen Fund. When I sat down at our pre-arranged lunch meeting, I had my suspicions, and expected another naïve, uninformed, overly trusting aid worker type, with a typical message of aid as the answer to Africa’s woes. Instead, I was intrigued and impressed. The Acumen Fund are a non-profit money lending organization that holds their recipients fully accountable for the loans they receive, and they are expected to repay over time, plus interest.

Finally, an idea that gives African entrepreneurs the respect they deserve, discourages the culture of begging and weeds out those who are just looking for another hand out.

The Acumen Fund has been extremely successful with this model in East Africa and India for years, and is just feeling the waters in Ghana. This will definitely be a new concept in a country which depends so heavily on grants and funding and even remittances from their citizens abroad.

One of Acumen’s success stories involves a Tanzanian who’s business plan was to manufacture bednets (to prevent malaria), which had previously been imported 100% from Asia. Currently 7000 women are employed in his factories – jobs which didn’t exist before – and he has fully paid back his loans with interest. He produces over 20 million nets a year and has become one of the largest employers in the region.

The money is always reinvested in new business plans. The Fund doesn’t stop there however, they recognize that due to the culture of poverty and hand outs, Africa has been left behind in entrepreneurial terms, and as such they recognize the need to train and mentor the business people they decide to support. This means the chance of success is far higher, and both parties stand to gain out of the partnerships.

These are the kinds of stories Africa needs. Not the headlines full of despots and dictators, rolling in dollar bills, burping, caviar breathed, and being fanned by servants, while the masses writhe like maggots in the shanty huts surrounding the palaces.

Aid must been seen for the cancer it is, and obliterated.

I just hope that more of the world starts to look at Africa and Africans as they would any other business partners. Able, accountable and ambitious.

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