People often ask me to describe what Ghanaian cuisine is like. I hesitate because do I know Ghanaian cuisine? I know what I ate growing up. I know what my parents ate that I didn’t partake in growing up. I know some of what other Ghanaian ethnic groups traditionally eat, but do I know Ghanaian cuisine?
Most of what I cook and eat at home is Ghanaian inspired. I can eat plantains all day long cooked a myriad of ways. Rice and stew (with chicken, beef, or goat) is entry level cooking, that which my father says Ghanaian women cook when they in fact do not know how to cook. Yeah! Yeah! Jollof rice. Rice & beans as technically I do not eat waakye. Attieke with grilled fish, a dish that requires the least cooking, and is probably the only time I eat fish. And soup. Light soup or groundnut soup made with meat or chicken. That’s it.
I hesitate because I realize that what I grew up eating is probably not what the typical Ghanaian eats. Banku I’ve never had. Kenkey, no thanks. I feel no need to roll my rice into omo-tuo, a rice ball. Gari is only for soakings as a treat not to be used as the starch in a meal. Mpotompoto, I’ve previously discussed.
So I tell most people that Ghanaian food is mostly starches/tubers such as cassava, yam, sweet potato, and cocoyam processed or cooked a myriad of ways, some fish/meat, and little vegetables. I neglect to tell them that the fish is often dried. I also conveniently leave out that meat includes bushmeat such as grasscutter or any part of the animal such as chicken feet and cow entrails or hide ie. leather. In hindsight, I realize I’ve never mentioned to a one that giant land snails are also a delicacy.
I hesitate because I realize that my consumption of meat and chicken growing up outpaces that of the typical Ghanaian. But then in my mind I think of a Ghanaian dish served with chicken or meat. The dish looking so enticing and so delicious. The chicken or meat piece perched on the side as the gold prize. The cook so pleased that they are able to offer you a prize cut or proud they can offer you meat in the first place. There you are, you take a few bites of your rice, your fufu, your what-have-you. Then you decide, now a bite of meat. So you pick up your meat and so begins the battle. You bite, then chew, and chew, and chew. Hmmm, you look around and see that either others have failed in their attempt of conquering the meat but you, you will be victor. So, you chew, chew, and chew. You chew to the point that you know you cannot bring it back out of your mouth to your plate, so you decide to be brave and swallow. Eh, but now this gelatinous fibrinous mass refuses to go down. It’s now on a mission of revenge choking you. Ah yes, such is the joy of eating Ghanaian meat!
I used to think Ghanaian meat/chicken is so hard to chew because the poor animals have had a harsh life and are only slaughtered when old and decrepit, that the butcher cuts up the animal any which way, and that the cook cooks out any bit of soul left in it. They are not fatty slobs like the farm raised animals cut up into pretty packages in the grocery stores here and cooked for what seems like two seconds. Then one day, I had a dinner at a family friend’s home. The wife was a white American. She was so proud to have cooked fried chicken, Ghanaian style. I understood that to mean chicken heavily seasoned then steamed then fried…without the breading which would make it American style.
My friends, to this day, I cannot imagine what she did to turn that soft grocery store Perdue chicken into, yes, Ghanaian style fried chicken that was so tough, so stringy, and almost so tasteless. I certainly did not have any nostalgia for that and I can’t believe people actually desire an exercise in mastication with their meals.