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West African Journal: Cooking in Ghana

2008-03-17 22:16:05

An Nzema Ghanaman-turned Oyibo dissing his country for Massa or Slanty dollars. Now read on and see how fufu was disgraced by this Ghanaman. And oh check out the link and see pictures for yourself.

Canadian Epoch Times correspondent Zoe Ackah is spending a year in rural Ghana. This is the first in a series of stories in which Zoe shares her culture shock and her thoughts on life in one of West Africa's more prosperous nations. This week, Zoe tells about learning to make Ghanaian "fufu."

Cooking in Ghana: Getting the Short End of a Giant Stick KAMUSI, Ghana?All people must eat. But my time here in Ghana has helped me know the great efforts eating once involved before the culture of convenience overtook us in North America.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived here last May, aside from the appalling lack of running water (a topic for another day), was the lack of refrigeration. For many Ghanaians a refrigerator is a luxury and of little use.

You see, I once naively suggested we go buy our cooking ingredients early in the morning to save time later in the day. "Oh no, you can't get food now," was the reply.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because it's still at the farm."

That's right. As we were speaking, the cassava had just been dug from the ground, the cows were just slaughtered, and each was making its way to market. Food that fresh simply doesn't spoil. Truly fresh food tastes great, and I'm getting used to it. I confess that I bought a fridge anyway (if only my children would keep the door closed!)

Like a Campfire ? Sort Of

Like fridges, stoves are not for commoners here. The gas oven with top burners is a tool for the elite. Most regular folk cook using a coal pot, a tiny barbeque fueled by charcoal that heats a single pot.

My first try at the coal pot caused mirth. I couldn't get the thing to light. I stacked the charcoal, but to get the fire going one needs some kindling?usually some shreds of stick chopped with a machete and the all-important ingredient: a piece of black plastic bag, which gets the kindling burning.

What a lovely thought: burning plastic over the world's greatest source of carbon monoxide. At first, I declined the plastic bag and tried paper, rather unsuccessfully and to the amusement of all onlookers. Surrendering, I used the bag, but in private I just soak everything in kerosene and light it by throwing a match, creating a small mushroom cloud at the side of my house. Good thing houses here are made of cement. Anyway, I quickly forked over the outrageous price and bought a gas oven.

Blending With Brawn

After the fire is lit, the next challenge is grinding the ingredients. In Ghana, all things begin the same way?with a soup of ground onions, chilies, tomatoes, and little eggplants. Grinding is the hard part. A blender requires electricity, an unreliable and costly extravagance in a country with an antiquated dam and ongoing energy crisis. Some days there's no power, other days it is on for 12 hours, though when there is water in the dam (as there is now) the problem is less pronounced.

So people grind the food up the old-fashioned way, using a clay mortar and a wooden hourglass-shaped pestle. What takes two minutes in a blender takes 10 times as long, and considerable physical force. Local custom dictates that even the elusive tomato seeds and skins must be crushed into oblivion before they can enter the soup pot.

I bought a blender, and if there's no power we eat out.

A Pest of a Pestle

After meat is added to the soup and begins cooking in pot number 1, pot number 2 is filled with cassava and unripe plantain. It's placed atop the stove when pot number 1 is done. When all is boiled to softness, the water is drained and small pieces of plantain or cassava are placed in a giant wooden mortar in order to pound the "fufu." Yes, pound. This mortar and pestle are so large it makes for a two-man (or woman) operation.

One person places small pieces of cassava or plantain in the giant wooden mortar and turns them, while the other person takes the giant pestle?which is literally a 20-pound tree trunk?and whacks it into the into the mortar, bashing the contents into a delicious sticky ball of starch.

Thrusting a tree trunk up and down and not breaking the other person's hand is an exercise for people with good rhythm, and this pounding process takes about 25 minutes, which is part of the reason all the women here are ripped! (Speaking of ripped, the first time I tried it, I ripped some skin off my fingers. It didn't even blister, and I couldn't lift my arms for three days.)

As you might have guessed, rice tastes better in Ghana than it ever did in Canada.

Stovetop Oven?

Recently I baked for the first time using an ingenious little "oven" made of tin that is propped on top of the coal pot. Hot coals are also placed on top of the oven so one fans the coals on the top and bottom. It is a clever little contraption with no thermometer and the potential to leave toddlers mute like Moses, but if you want an oatmeal cookie in Kumasi, it is the only way to go.

Zoe Ackah is the former Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Epoch Times in Canada. She is visiting family in Kamusi, in Ghana, West Africa.

[This is an authentic posting from JW (Registered User)]
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