Like me you may be a Ghanaian brought up on arguably the most captivatingly delicious and wholesome meals anywhere in the world and just want a reminder of how awesome your culinary heritage is. Who knows? you may just be wondering if all the fuss Ghanaian food enthusiasts make about Ghanaian food on the streets of London, New York, Amsterdam and elsewhere in the world is just mere hype. Perhaps you may be in the middle of planning a trip to Ghana and wondering what local foodie delights you’d be serenaded with.
We hope that this curated selection of 20 Ghanaian foods to try will not only whet your appetite but, will inform and give you a unique insight into the various foods and dishes and where you can find them to try in Ghana.
Tom Brown Porridge with nuts
A breakfast favourite that continues to garner a cult following amongst health conscious folks and one that has carved it’s own niche as a nutritious supplement for toddlers, Ghana’s Tom Brown is hit. Even though it lends itself to variations by adding nuts (see below) and other flavours, the basic Tom Brown is good to go with a sprinkling of sugar and evaporated milk. Have it with a slice or two of bread daubed with butter and you’d be set to go conquer the world! Normally bought in powder form to cook at home.
Kontomire stew (Palava sauce) with boiled yam and plantain
Kontomire stew or as it is affectionately called, palaver sauce, has a history that perhaps goes back centuries. Curiously enough it is also the only Ghanaian food that makes an appearance in our hall of fame for inserting itself into Ghana’s colonial history. It is often had with boiled yam pieces and sliced boiled ripe plantain. It is not unusual to have an assortment of meat including sea food and crustaceans in kontomire stew. It is a palm oil rich medley that will assault your senses and like Oliver Twist you’d come back to ask for more! Often made at home and can be found on typically Ghanaian restaurant menus.
Tatale reminds me of how Ghanaians often vote in national political elections. Blouse and Skirt we call it. A strategy that sees voters vote for a President of a party but then intentionally vote for a local Member of Parliament of a different party to the President. I guess its a way of balancing things out nicely. President Tatale is not had on its own. It’s accompanying Member of Parliament is from the beans family locally called aboboi. The two go hand in hand like lovers yet to come out of that giggly infatuation honeymoon period. The best way to describe Tatale to our English speaking readers is that it is similar to pancakes in its preparation but, made primarily with mushed over ripe plantain. Tatale once in a while veers away from aboboi to set up home with “red red”, a black eyed beans stew popular in Ghana.
It is often said that “There are some things money just cannot buy, like manners, morals and common sense.” I’d add Ghana’s rather common rice and stew to this list! This is the basic food or dish a sizeable proportion of urban Ghanaians grew up on. The childhood memories that rice and stew triggers are too priceless for money to buy.
The ubiquitous kenkey is arguably coastal Ghana’s favourite staple. Cheap and cheerful, it lends itself to various combos including grilled tilapia. Grilled tilapia symbolises and gives credence to Ghana’s economic growth or at the very least economic potential. As fishing stock dwindles some of Ghana’s savvy entrpreneurs, such as Mike Amichi, have taken to farming tilapia to keep this fish on our dining tables. Often grilled on open charcoal grills and adorned with chopped onion with shito on the side, grilled tilapia is now a revelation. No decent restaurant worth its weight in gold could avoid having it on its menu and if its not paired with kenkey then banku serves as an equally appetising replacement.
Some folks cannot do without that carbohydrate fuelled energy that yam brings to the Ghanaian dining table. Ofcourse whether boiled, fried or grilled yam is simply not only flavourful but incredibly versatile in combination with other foods. Y3l3 kakro or yam balls is often prepared at home as a side dish. Ghana’s puna yam variety is normally the variety used which makes the end product mushy and soft on the palate.
Kenkey (mentioned above) is a predominantly coastal Ghana staple and, therefore, as expected it is traditionally had with fried fish. It is made out of fermented maize dough and it is probably the most common staple dish in Accra. I often joke that it is easier for me to find Kenkey to buy in London that it is for me to find in my particular suburban neighbourhood in Accra. Not surprising as it is a favourite of Ghanaian emigres around the world. I once watched as the fermented dough Kenkey is made out of, was processed and cooked. Fascinating but complex process which probably explains why Kenkey is often bought already made from vendors and very few people are skilled in the art of making it to be able to make it at home. Traditionally kenkey (both Ga and Fanti) goes with fried fish and shrimps.
Perhaps one of the top three street foods in Ghana, Red Red, combined with gari and fried plantain both as sides on a sunny and hot afternoon is as Ghanaian as American pie is American. Red Red is easy to make at home but, for that authentic Ghanaian taste, it’s best to leave it to the expert Red Red vendors dotted all around cities across Ghana. Some of the nation’s finest African restaurants will have it as one of thier signature dishes.
Kelewele is heavily spiced fried and slightly overripe plantain sold mostly at night with roasted groundnuts. It is as street food as street food gets. Cheap, flavourful, convenient to tuck in and a fixture in any night food market. Restaurants in Ghana would usually have kelewele as a starter or a side dish for diners to share on a platter as they wait for their mains. Tip: Do not throw a party without kelewele on “tap.” A word to the wise…….
If Red Red is the superman of Ghanaian food, kenkey the batman then Waakye has got to be spiderman. Together these three are what you’d find readily available in every foodie nook and cranny in Ghana. These are the superheroes who wield extraordinary power over the culinary heritage of Ghana. Again like Red Red, waakye is best enjoyed in a restaurant or as street food and like other rice and beans combos it has the unique characteristic of providing you with both carbohydrate and protein – a complete meal indeed.
Shito is not had on its own. It is a condiment that unanimously holds the title of the mother of all condiments in Ghana. Think what ketchup is to Americans. Think what wasabi is to sushi connoisseurs. Think what Sriracha is to Thailand or Mustard is to the British and you’d get a sense of what shito is to Ghanaians. I probably have not gone more than two or three meals without having this condiment. Be warned though if you are new to Ghanaian cuisine. Shito is processed black pepper and dry fish and shrimps, using traditional methods. It, therefore comes with a punch but with the most sumptuous umami taste.
As you click on the link below to read more about Okro stew, you’d be given an interesting insight into one of Ghana’s favourite sayings or rather insults. If you ever happen to be called an “Okro mouth” you should really take a deep breath and try to find God in record time. It is an assassination of character that should make you think about resetting your moral compass. Morality aside, Okro and banku is a popular Ghanaian dish and perhaps one of the most delicious. Ghanaians love their okro stews and soups slimy and with plenty of assorted meat and fish. A favourite in many chop bars (traditional local eateries).
Rice and black eyed beans stew with fried plantains
This is a designer meal. Certainly not traditional but, one that makes sense if you happen to have some left over Red Red and boiled rice on hand. I guess this makes this dish an offspring of two of Ghana’s popular foods. Add some fried plantain to it and you’d have created the ultimate in leftover combos. Don’t expect to find this on restaurant menu unless the chef takes a special interest in the height of your high heels and is able to garner enough strength to make you a special one.
A remarkably simple yet delicious side, Abobie is popular in the Volta region of Ghana. If you ever happen to eat out in that region or can bag a friend or two from there then by all means do ask them about Abobie. As for me, I’d befriend potential Abobie makers not necessarily for friendship…but to beg them to make me this side dish!
Akla or bean fritters if you like is the busiest globetrotting dish on here. It can be spotted in Nigeria where it changes its name to Akara (bean balls, bean fritas or bean cakes). Go as far as Brazil and you’d spot Akla or Acarajé as they call it. The truth is this is a West African food, snack and breakfast staple that has survived amongst the African diaspora in countries such as Brazil. In Ghana it is usually had with a breakfast porridge called Hausa Koko.
There is a certain wholesomeness about garden egg stew that many meals could simply not compete with. This is a stew that is usually combined with boiled yam and plantain to perhaps recreate the innocence of a by-gone era. An era perhaps synonymous with a golden age of farming when Ghanaians grew what they ate and ate what they grew before the onset of artificial growth hormones and chemical fertilizers. When I breath organic I crave garden egg stew.
Arguably the most controversial of all West African foods. Never mind the claim to Israeli land by Palestenians or the claim to Palestenian land by the nation of Isreal depending on your politics. The claim to jollof rice is probably the single most potent cause for Third World War, well at least the West African version anyway. The Sierra Leonians will quarrel with you all day if you ever attributed its origins to any other nation. The Senegalese and Gambians will probably threaten to invade your country with their rather hefty looking wrestlers and the Nigerians will definitely start a mini invasive troll on your Twitter account. The Ghanaians (bless them) have now given up on their dodgy and audacious claim to jollof rice and I hear are now attempting a rather bold play for Japanese sushi. Inter-rivalry aside perhaps no one has ever done more for West African unity than the celebrity British chef Jamie Oliver. His rendition of jollof rice caused a rather huge uproar on social media as West Africans, briefly putting aside their individual national claims to jollof rice, spewed what ranged from mild criticism to unadulterated vitriol in Oliver’s way. His crime? He had watered down the authenticity of jollof. His version was at best more akin to the Spanish paella.
Jollof rice as West Africans know varies from country to country. The Ghanaian version is obviously what is synonymous to Ghana. Chopped vegetable such as green peas and carrots tend to be added with plenty of onion. Jollof rice in Ghana is a party dish, ubiquitous to celebrations all over the country.
Pork is big in Ghana. It is prepared in all sorts of ways but perhaps the most popular is domedo, which is roast pork marinated in local Ghanaian spices. I’d like to think of domedo as the most nocturnal of all the foods here. Rather like Ghana’s famous chinchinga roast on sticks, domedo seems to only come out to play at night. Roast yam and Kenkey with shito can serve as able accompaniments, however, if you are a true meat eater then you’d have domedo on its own perhaps with a cold bottle of beer in hand.
Not dissimilar to what Europeans will call rice pudding, rice water porridge is a Ghanaian breakfast of note. Easy to make and often richly endowed with evaporated milk, rice water is versatile and can be flavoured with fruits and nuts to give it a twist. Our obsession with this breakfast has no limits. We must have a record number of flavoured rice water porridges on this blog!
Now this will almost certainly raise eyebrows in Ghana. Ghanaian food is dominated by centuries-old traditional foods passed down from generation to generation but, now and again even the most unadventurous Ghanaian cook or chef may create anew or fuse a couple of traditional or non-traditional ingredients together. Kontomire omelette pays homage to the experimenters amongst us. Mushrooms which are more synonymous to the West are added to this recipe to complete the fusion. This is a futuristic interpretation of Ghanaian food. A small baby step towards showing pride in our traditional dishes and ingredients such as kontomire but, also embracing the best and tastiest the world has to offer!