Food, Glorious food

29 06 2008

My sister has (uncharitably I think) suggested that I may be showing signs of being food obsessed on this blog. While this clearly isn’t true, and I would point out that I’m not the only one – my friend Richard in Kofridura has at least two excellent posts on food, this one on home cooking and this on street food, I feel the time may have come for me to write a little more explicitly. I would post some explicit pictures too, but generally I’m too busy eating to photograph my dinners.

I thought I’d split my discussion into four areas: Local food, street food, food I like that I can get in Tamale that can’t be described as local and food I can’t get in Tamale and miss.

Local food largely seems to consist of a carbohydrate (yam, millet, maize or rice) being pounded with a little water into a gelatinous gloo that may or may not then be allowed to ferment slightly. The consistency and taste of the results (foo-foo, TZ, kenkey, rice balls or banku) varies slightly but all look more or less like balls of sticky, smooth mashed potato. Personally I quite like banku and kenkey but the rest are fairly bland. They are usually served with a soup or stew or sometimes with a spicy salsa-like sauce simply called pepé, and always with some form of deep fried meat – fish is extremely popular here but I usually get chicken or guinea fowl. Goat is usually available too. My favourite stew is made from groundnut (peanuts) and is like a hot, liquidy peanut butter, with a suggestion of other savoury flavours. It can be fairly yummy with banku, which has a slightly sour flavour. If you tire of gelatinous balls there are at least three ways rice can be served; plain, fried or (my favourite) jollof. Jollof rice is sort of like a tomato paste risotto, sometimes with a suggestion of ginger, often with chilli powder. Rice is usually served with meat (again often fish) and sometimes will be served with a desert spoon sized portion of salad smothered in salad cream. Another favourite of mine is “red red”. This is a dish consisting of deep fried plantain (similar to large, non sweet bananas), deep fried chicken or fish and a bean stew (usually made with fish). Red red is unsubtle and very stodgy and filling – exactly how I like my food.
Red Red

There is a variety of street food, and some of it is carried in small glass fronted display cabinets balanced on vendors’ heads. Spicy goat kebabs are a great favourite, as are “ball-fruit”, a sort of deep fried donut. Also deep fried are kosi – a sort of small savoury cake made from bean paste – nicer than it sounds. Koli-koli are loops of crispy (i.e. deep fried again) groundnut dough and really nice. Corn on the cob is grilled on braziers by the street next to yam and plantain, with roast groundnuts sold in small bags. Obviously I could also buy fresh oranges, bananas, coconuts or sliced pineapple on the street but they aren’t deep fried. Mind you I do love the fresh mango now that it’s mango season.

Being a major metropolis (or as near as you’ll get to one in northern Ghana) Tamale also has restaurants catering to more cosmopolitan tastes. For a price I can get a good beef burger, a quite reasonable pizza and a decent curry. There’s even a Chinese restaurant on the other side of town which isn’t bad. Cheese can be bought in town (limited variety and VERY expensive, a small block of cheddar costs the same as 3 litres bottles of local gin) as well as wine. Other delicacies appear and disappear randomly. One of my local “spots” even serves acceptable chips (French-fries) occasionally.

With all this abundance what can I possibly miss? Well partly you hear the phrase “it is finished” quite a lot here. This means that while it’s on the menu, and you may have had it last time you were there it isn’t available tonight. Sometimes almost all of the menu may be “finished” leaving you with a single choice, usually fried rice with chicken. But as well as that I miss a combination of solid, stodgy traditional British fare like roasts, steak and kidney pie or sausage and mash. And of course bacon. But also I miss the sheer variety of styles and nationalities of food I was spoilt by when I lived in London. Not any particular type but just having the luxury of the choice. There are only a limited range of fresh veg available here and that is seasonal. It’s very easy to end up eating the same stuff over and over.

I won’t discuss my home cooking, I realise children may read this and I don’t want to be responsible for nightmares. Suffice to say my cooking rarely involves more than one pan, which usually doubles as the bowl I eat from. And a lot of the ingredients will have come out of a tin. Not much different my cooking London really.

Despite the availability of a wide range of unhealthy foods I’ve still been able to lose quite a lot of weight. In fact the belt I came out with that was tight on the second notch is now loose on the first, so I’ve lost at least 3 inches around the waist. I’ve combined two photos of me taken almost exactly a year apart that demonstrates the effect of living in Africa for a year.

Before and After




8 responses

2 07 2008

Thanks for the mention. Saves me having to tackle the whole banku fufu topic. I’m going to have to give up on food for the time being, it has been a preoccupation. I think Melcom needs a full appraisal.

See you at conference or what’s left of you.


15 07 2008

Gotta love the redred!!! Been in Ghana 12 years now and it’s still one of the best dishes. Do you get tilapia up there in Tamale???

16 07 2008
Tim Little

You can get Tilapia up here, but I’m not much of a fish fan I’m afraid.

20 03 2009

I think that my western taste buds very much agree with yours. I was only kidding in my comment on you prior post. Even though I found a lot of local food I loved to eat there were things that I missed (I even tried those silly canned hot dogs out of desperation). My favorites were the ones that you mentioned, Jollof rice, Banku, Kenkey (with the pepper sauce), and red red.

I really did not make it to the North and would be interested to know if there is anything that is more typical of the North. I am not the biggest fish fan either so a lot of that was kind of difficult for me. I do like some varieties of fish and especially when I prepare them but the way they were often prepared in Ghana they had that very distinctly fish taste that I don’t care for. But even with out the fish there was plenty to keep me happy.

My good old fall back was egg and bread. They can through together some good omelets on the streets and through them in some bread and that kept me happy when I wasn’t feeling much else. I also enjoyed Palava stew with rice. I do not know the name of it but in the Volta region I found a type of cheese on the street that was deep fried and then eaten with a pepper sauce. This was really yummy but hard to find sometimes. On road trips, road side deep fried turkey and believe it or not grass cutter kabobs were some of my favorite.

I lost 40 pounds the first time I lived in Ghana over a 5 month period. Some of this was due to different eating habits but a large portion of this was due to my really bad case of malaria. I had to make a couple of new holes on my belt and I really looked the fool because my pants would be all bunched up around the waste due to being cinched down by my belt.

The next time you make it down to Kumasi look into trying to find an Indian restaurant, it was some of the best Indian food I have ever had. I don’t remember the name of it but I cant imagine there being too many in Kumasi.

20 03 2009
20 03 2009
Tim Little


Thanks for the comment and link. The cheese thing is wagachee (no idea how to spell it) and it is great

18 01 2011
Audrey Quaye

Hello Tim, I have enjoyed reading your blog. I am frankly puzzled why Europeans consider African food to be unhealthy. Rural Africans eat more organic food and less processed food. It takes time to learn how to prepare African food but I think it is on the whole more healthy, if you reduce the starchy staples and use the variety of greens, legumes and other chemical-free unprocessed ingredients. In any case, sounds like you had a wonderful time in Ghana.

22 01 2011
Tim L

Hi Audrey,

Glad you enjoyed reading my blog and yes I did enjoy my time in Ghana.

Sadly I suspect that Europeans don’t have much an opinion at all on African food generally. In my experience the qualities were mixed and from what I could gather I would be a little more careful about assuming the absence of chemicals. Much privately produced food in Africa is chemical free but I’m not so convinced about bigger farms. I definitely saw chemical fertilizers being advertised. My other fear is that commenting on African food is much like commenting on European as if the British, Italian and Polish diets are all equally healthy. Africa is a large and diverse continent.

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