Ghanaian food: What you're missing out on
Original photo: benketaro
Interested in the cuisine of Ghana? Here is GVI’s guide to Ghanaian food.
Delectable spices and filling staples make the food of Ghana something not to be missed. But Ghanaian food is about more than mere sustenance: it is a way to express love and happiness, and a means to bring people together. Ghanaian food is for the soul, not just the stomach.
It is all too easy to conflate the culture and cuisine of African countries. But make no mistake: each has its own body of ingredients, preparation techniques, and flavor palettes. And Ghana is no exception.
Broaden your knowledge of food by learning about traditional Ghanaian dishes, and get to know why food is so important within the culture of Ghana.
GVI spoke to David Larbi, a Ghanaian student, about Ghanaian food, and why it is such an important part of culture and life in Ghana.
A brief history of Ghanaian food
Traditional Ghanaian food is made using local ingredients and age-old techniques. Some local staples are red palm oil, yams, and sweet potato, and these form the base of many Ghanaian dishes.
However, since multiple European countries brought their influence to Ghana during colonial times, this has had an impact on Ghanaian cuisine.
Scandinavian gold-miners came to Ghana in the 15th century and introduced ingredients such as rye to the Ghanaians. Rye bread is a staple in Scandinavian cuisine and lasts a very long time. They had therefore brought an abundance of it with them on their journey to Ghana.
However, despite the many influences imposed upon Ghana, traditional Ghanaian foods and staple meals have, by and large, remained stable for centuries. These meals are nutritious, delicious, and often simple to make, so why change them?
The importance of food in Ghanaian culture
“Food makes me think of celebration because at every big Ghanaian party the food is the most important thing,” exclaims Larbi.
Indeed, the social culture of Ghana is very much centered around mealtimes. Eating together is a time to be with family and friends, and to process the day’s events.
Parties, festivals, and celebrations are also very much rooted in eating together and are almost always based around a meal.
Sharing a meal together is a way of bringing people to the same level. Sitting across from each other, and being served from the same pot, with the same ladle, is a reminder that everybody is equal.
Larbi recalls sharing traditional Ghanaian meals with family and friends, and the impact that this had on him. He remembers especially the “wave of excitement that comes over the room when the food gets brought in”.
Food is a way to create something in common, he muses. With these recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, there is a sense of togetherness and a feeling of belonging.
Ghana’s top three dishes
When asked his favorite Ghanaian dishes, Larbi is quick to answer: “jollof rice, waakye, and gari and beans,” he says.
Original photo: Charles Haynes
Jollof rice is a dish eaten in many West African countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal. Each country has its own variation of the dish, each as delectable as the next.
Jollof rice is prepared in one pot, and the Ghanaian version contains rice, meat of personal preference (beef or goat, for example), and lots of tomatoes, whether fresh or in paste form.
Spices, such as a warm and aromatic mix of nutmeg, curry, and thyme, are a must when creating your jollof rice. As is a variety of vegetables, which add a crunch to this hearty, rice-based dish. This harmony of flavors and textures is what makes this meal so delectable and popular.
Cooking at a low heat on a stove or over a fire, the aroma of the tomato will intermingle with the spices used in the sauce, making any passer-by’s mouth water. The rice is added after the tomatoes and spices have bubbled together for a few minutes.
Much like individual variations on spaghetti bolognese, each person’s recipe for jollof rice will differ depending on family traditions, location, and what is available. It is a personal choice reflective of tradition, personal taste, and the occasion. Indeed, Larbi explains that at an event, the food reflects the mood and is regarded as a “second celebration”.
This popular recipe is often eaten at parties and events and is a great crowd-pleaser. You can be sure that if you are serving jollof rice, there won’t be much left by the end of the event!
Original photo: Capibar
This is a simple-to-make dish, that tastes anything but simple in flavor.
Waakye is, essentially, just rice and beans cooked together with the leaf of the indigenous Ghanaian millet stalk, locally called the waakye leaf. This simplicity gives waakye a mild taste that is loved by almost everybody.
Waakye is often paired with other traditional Ghanaian dishes, as a side or accompaniment to a delicious meal. It fits well alongside egg, meat or avocados, making a few simple ingredients infinitely more exciting.
Waakye is incredibly versatile and can be seasoned with spices to suit any taste. This means waakye is popular with almost everybody, with each vying for their own version of the dish.
The simplicity and versatility of waakye make it a staple in Ghanaian cuisine. It is filling, healthy, and delicious. What’s not to like?
Gari and beans
Original photo: Kwabena
Gari and beans is arguably one of the most popular dishes within Ghanaian cuisine.
The staple ingredient of gari is “a powdery substance made from cassava root, that can be eaten both wet and dry depending on what you eat it with”, says Larbi. The root is dried and ground into a powder and enjoyed with many a meal. Although popular within Ghanaian cuisine, it is little-known beyond its borders.
The basis of this dish is boiled beans mixed with red palm oil. Gari is usually accompanied by fried ripe plantain. Again, spices and herbs can be added when making gari and beans, according to personal taste.
This dish is a whole meal in itself. The beans make it fantastically filling, adding texture and substance to the meal, while the accompanying fried plantain gives it the perfect flavor of freshness.
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