As a professionally trained chef, whenever I travel on my chocolate safaris. I try to make time to get to know more about the local foods, always taking any opportunity to cook with locals, to learn about traditional cooking techniques, foods, and the amazing stories behind them.
So my trips to Ghana leading chocolate safaris have given me the perfect opportunity to do just that and here’s what I have found out so far.
Ghana’s food is every bit as diverse as its people, with every ethnic group represented by their own special dish, from the coastal towns to the savannah regions, but like most other traditional foods, Ghanaian dishes rely heavily on the geographical distribution of the different ingredients.
Some of those ingredients are now more nationally available; items like rice, pasta, corn, beans, millet, plantains, and cassava. Most ethnic cooks use their creatively to adapt dishes with whatever is available locally.
The following are just a few of the dishes and stories I found on my travels I thought would be a good starting point to introduce you to some of the flavours of my Ghanaian chocolate safaris.
Jollof rice, also known as 'Benachin' which means 'one pot' in the Wolof language, originates from Senegal and Gambia during the 14th-16th century. With rice farming being prominent across the Senegal River, this region became known as the grain coast. In 1448, the Portuguese developed trading posts by the river, and introduced goods, including tomatoes, which would become essential to the development of the dish now found all across West Africa.
Jollof in Ghana is usually made with long-grain rice, tomatoes, onions, spices, vegetables, and meat or fish in one pot, and as with most traditional recipes, its ingredients and preparation methods vary across different regions.
The rice soaks up all the flavourful stock and turns a delicious orange colour during cooking. Jollof is one of the nation’s favourites and appears on most if not all restaurant menus, or from chop shops (street food vendors)at very affordable prices.
In the Eastern and Ashanti regions of Ghana, one meal you will be offered is fufu - it’s possibly the proudest dish of the Akan people.
In Twi, fufu or fufuo means "mash' or 'mix", and is a soft and doughy staple food. It's thought to have originated in northern Ghana by the Asante, the Akuapem, the Guans, Akyem, the Bono, and the Fante people of the Akan ethnic groups, and is now a generally accepted staple across the country.
Fufu takes hours of pounding together a mixture of boiled cassava and plantains into a soft sticky paste.
Fufu is often dipped into sauces or eaten with stews of meat, fish, or vegetables, and with aromatic and spicy tomato soup.
The traditional way to eat fufu is to pinch some of the fufu off in one's right hand fingers and form it into an easily ingested round ball. The ball is then dipped in the soup before being eaten, a bit like dipping bread into soup.
The word waakye is from the Hausa language and translates as beans.
Originally a Northern dish, but now found almost everywhere and especially on the streets of Accra.
Eating waakye opens up a whole range of Ghanaian flavours. It's served for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even supper ,served with sides like fried plantain, garri (grated cassava), spaghetti, and avocado.
Waakye is made with rice and beans, usually black eyed peas or cow beans cooked together, with dried red sorghum leaf or stalks and limestone. The sorghum leaves and limestone give the dish its characteristic flavor and a red colour, and the sorghum is taken out before serving .
I was lucky enough to visit Bosmtwe Lake (ometimes spelled Bosomtwi), is a lake formed by a meteorite strike in the Ashanti Region. However, oral tradition tells us the Bosomtwe was formed in 1648 when a hunter shot and injured an 'Otwe' (antelope). The antelope continued to run until it disappeared in a small pond ahead. The hunter, Akora Bompe, decided to stay beside the pond and never returned to his town of Asamang. He named the place “Bosomtwe” which translates as “antelope god.” He believed that the water was a god and saved the life of the antelope.
The lake has a rich history, only the locals are permitted to fish there on baleced on top of planks of wood the main catch is tilapia.
If you see fish being grilled on the streets its probably tilapia, a delicacy for Ghanaians, who spice then grill the freshwater fish. It goes great with banku, a Southern mix of fermented corn and cassava dough, and Scotch Bonnet pepper, diced tomatoes, and onions. Banku is popular with the people on the coast.
Made from cowpea beans boiled to make a soup, most often served with palm oil and soft, fried plantains. It is one of the few Ghanaian dishes that isn’t heavily spiced; its flavour comes from the other ingredients it’s served with such as garri.
Tuo Zaafi aka TZ
Northern Ghanaian food is dominated by the use of grains, herbs, and meat.
Tuo Zaafi, also known as T.Z. has its origins from the Hausa Language. The word 'Tuo' means stirring or paddling while the word 'Zaafi' means hot.
Tuo Zaafi is not only popular in Ghana, but also across some other west African countries like Nigeria, Burkina – Faso, Mali, and Niger.
It's a bit like banku, although its softer and not as sticky. It's made by cooking corn dough and adding a little cassava.
What distinguishes Tuo Zaafi are the nutritious herbs used in making the accompanying soup, including dawadawa and ayoyo leaves.
Kenkey is a typical Ghanaian dish that is made from fermented white corn, similar to banku. It's made by moulding fermented corn dough into balls wrapping them around with drying corn leaves, and then boiling them.
It;s widely eaten all across the country, but known by different names. The Ga tribe from southern Ghana call it komi. The Fante tribe who live in the center of the country call it dokono.
Kenkey is most often served with crab, octopus, or fried fish were fishing is possable and always with a hot pepper sauce. It is a delicacy of the Accran people.
African spicy fried ripe plantains that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside a bit like a roast potato.
Great with stews or as sides to go with any protein, often as a snack with peanuts.
Three basic ingredients ginger, chilli, and salt and your off, where you take it then is up to you.
They are often sold as a snack. It is made by frying soft plantains that have been marinated in peppers, ginger, and garlic.
The aroma is crisp and strong, while the plantain adds a little sweetness to the sour.
Double the recipe do you can use it as a bbq dusting.
Omo Tuo (or rice balls) are another traditional Ghanaian food that shows how the population often reinvents the myriad ways of eating rice. It comprises soft boiled grains that are moulded into balls and served with a variety of soups, and makes a great accompaniment to many dishes like fufu.
Kontomire stew is made from boiled tender cocoyam leaves, salt fish, and boiled eggs, and goes with boiled yams, plantains and avocado.
Nkatenkwan (peanut stew)
Nkatenkwan is one of Ghana's most famous national dishes. It is a soup made from peanuts.
People often refer to it as peanut butter soup which in Ghana is credited with coming from the Hausa people, but it's enjoyed all over the continent now.
There is a wide variety of peanut soups and stews across West Africa. The simplest version is made by just adding peanut butter to an soup base of onion, tomato and Scotch Bonnet peppers, served with omo tuo, or fufu.
The first time I tried this was in the Gambia where it was called 'Durango' made for me by a group of women in a fruit growing co-operative they taught me how to make this dish.
explaining that it’s known in Mandinka as 'Mafe' by the Wollofs and it was given to warriors for strength before they went into battle.
Peanuts are not indigenous to Africa. They came from South America, and spread to Europe, Asia and Africa, through the Portuguese and African slaves in the 1600s, as early as 1502 possibly to the Senegambia region of West Africa.
Their culinary use spread throughout the rest of the continent ,and because of their high calorie content, peanuts are an important food source throughout Africa. Peanuts are not really nuts but are related to peas (legumes).