Chiemi Maloy is a Humanist Action: Ghana volunteer who has traveled to Ghana for the first time as part of a year-long service commitment in the town of Cape Coast. This is her second entry in this blog series. (Click here for her first installment.)
One of the best and worst parts of being away from home is new food experiences. People plan entire vacations around cuisine in foreign places, and then some people find comfort in eating the exact same sandwich for lunch every day. I was in neither of these categories. I love to try new foods, but since I almost never travelled, I was left with options close to home. I thought Salt Lake City had a pretty diverse food scene, but I realized there is a big gap in African cuisines; it caters more to South American, European and Asian foods. Proximity to Mexico is probably a huge contributor to SLC having almost unlimited options for cooking or going out to eat authentic Mexican foods, and that might be one of the things I miss most. I realized though, that I had probably not had the best opportunities to expand my palate for what to expect in Ghana. And sometimes my relationship with food here is a struggle.
When we first arrived I felt obligated to try as many local foods as I could, and at the same time I was filled with fear from my doctor at the travel clinic who told me not to eat anything that I didn't see cooked in front of me or didn’t peel myself. I tell myself repeatedly, “if it's safe for locals to eat, it should be good enough for me.” And I maybe take risks that I shouldn’t, but I've survived so far.
Some of the most common foods here are fufu and banku. Both are doughy balls that are eaten with soup and some type of meat. Fufu is made by taking boiled cassava and plantain and pounding it repeatedly until a sticky dough forms. This is usually served in a spicy soup called “light soup" with the meat. To eat it, you use your fingers (RIGHT HAND ONLY) to cut bits of the fufu, and then using your thumb to make an indentation, spoon some of the soup into your mouth and then swallow the whole thing. It’s an unusual texture if you're not accustomed to it, but the flavor of the soup is what I like. I look ridiculous when I eat it, but I'll keep working on my technique.
My favorite local food so far is red-red. This is made with beans and palm oil, fried plantains covered in spices, and garnished with spicy peppers and onions. There is a woman and her daughter who regularly have a long line for their red-red in town, and to me the wait is worth it.
Some not-so-local foods that we eat a lot are fried rice and Indomie (ramen). You can get fried rice almost anywhere, and everyone does it a little differently, but it’s almost always good and comforting. The best fried rice comes with really good fried chicken and I love that it's easy to find. Spaghetti stir fry is also really common. We buy the Indomie brand packs by the dozens, and experiment with different ways to prepare the noodles. This is mostly because it's one of the cheapest meal options possible, but also because it’s familiar. I feel like I’m back in that summer when I was a kid, convinced I would make a cookbook of 100 ways to eat ramen; only these instant noodles come with onion oil and chili spices, and it's almost never made as a soup with broth.
I miss so many foods that I resort to watching cooking shows almost all the time to at least mentally satisfy the cravings. I tortured myself by watching the Taco Chronicles doc series since tacos are ultimately nonexistent here. Cheese is available, but it's very expensive. I had real ice cream during a big holiday festival and I thought I might cry it was so good and I had missed it so much.
Things like pizza and burgers that are staples back home are a game of roulette now, because you might pay way too much for something really disappointing. For example, shortly after we got here, we had an amazing pizza covered with chicken, onions, and what I’m assuming was real mozzarella cheese. It was melty, it was delicious, we were happy. We went back a week later and ordered the exact same thing, but when it came out it had sausage, cucumbers, onions, and either fake cheese or some kind of feta – and it was awful. So comfort foods are more like Oreos, Pringles, or my new favorite snack: fried plantain chips. There are lots of foods I still have not tried, so stay tuned for more foodie adventures of a girl very out of place who regrets filling her suitcases with books instead of cheese.
This article is part of a series written by FBB volunteers detailing their experiences in the Humanist Action: Ghana (HA: Ghana). The opinions expressed in this article may not necessarily express those of Foundation Beyond Belief as a whole, its staff, or donors.
Exploring local culture is a perk of being an HA: Ghana volunteer, but our mission in Ghana goes far deeper. We bolster local charities and work with local communities to organize service work. Want to support our work in Ghana? The best way to do so right now is by donating to our Annual Appeal: