Main staple foods
The typical Ghanaian staples in the south include cassava and plantain. In the northern parts of the country, their main staples include millet and sorghum. Yam, maize and beans are used across the country as staple foods. Crops such as peanuts and cocoyam are also important in the local cuisine. With the advent of modernisation and colonialism, imported crops such as rice and wheat have been increasingly incorporated in Ghanaian cuisine. The foods below represent the dishes made out of these staple foods.
Some of the main starchy dishes are:
- Fufu – A staple food of West and Central Africa. It is made by boiling starchy vegetables like cassava, yams or plantains and then pounding them into a dough-like consistency.
- Banku/Akple – cooked fermented corn dough and cassava dough
- Kenkey/Dokonu – fermented corn dough, wrapped in corn or plantain leaves and cooked into a consistent solid balls
- Tuo Zaafi – a maize dish from Northern Ghana
- Fonfom – a maize dish of the Ahanta and Nzema people in Southern Ghana
- Konkonte – from cassava powder
- Gari – made from cassava
- Omo Tuo – pounded rice staple of Northern origins
- Waakye – rice and beans
- Jollof Rice
- Cooked plain rice with stew
Tilapia, fried whitebait (chinam), smoked fish and crayfish are all common components of Ghanaian dishes. The cornmeal based staples, banku and kenkey are usually accompanied by some form of fried fish (chinam) or grilled tilapia and a very spicy condiment made from raw red and green chillies, onions and tomatoes (pepper sauce). Banku and tilapia is a combo served in most Ghanaian restaurants.
Gari soakings is also one of the Ghanaian staples that most can not live without. It entails gari (dried, roasted cassava), sugar, groundnut (peanut) and milk.
Other dishes include ampesie (boiled yam and unripe plantain) which is usually accompanied with kontomire, groundnut (peanut) soup, or nyadowa (garden egg stew).
An alternative to the starch and stew combination is “Red Red”, a popular and easy to find dish. It is a bean stew served with fried ripe plantain. It earns its name from the palm oil that tints the stew and the bright orange colour of the fried plantain.
Soups and stews
Most Ghanaian dishes are served with a stew or soup. Ghanaian stews and soups are quite sophisticated with liberal and adventurous use of exotic ingredients and a wide variety of flavours, spices and textures. Spices such as thyme, garlic, ginger and bay leaf; vegetables such as wild mushroom, garden eggs (eggplant), tomatoes and various types of pulses; beef, pork, goat, sheep, chicken, smoked meat and fish; crab, shrimp, periwinkles, octopus; bushmeat, snails, and duck; offal, trotters and cow skin are all featured in Ghanaian cuisine.
Palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, palm kernel oil and peanut oil are important local oils used for cooking and frying. In certain stews, palm oil is the preferred oil for preparing it. Classic examples are okro stew, fante fante, red red, egusik stew and mpihu/mpotompoto (similar to Poi). Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and shea butter were used for frying most local fried foods. However with the introduction of refined oils and negative media adverts targeted at these local oils, their use have become less popular. They are mostly used in few traditional homes, for soap making and by commercial food vendors to cut down cost on using the refined vegetable oils.
Common soups are groundnut soup, light (tomato) soup, kontomire (taro leaves) soup, palmnut soup, and okra soup. Tomato stew or gravy is a stew which is often served with rice. Other vegetable stews are made with kontomire, garden eggs, egusi (pumpkin seeds), spinach, okra, etc., mixed with any protein of one’s choice.
Usually rice is served with a soup or stew, kenkey is served with fried fish and hot pepper while banku is usually served with okra stew or soup and occasionally with tilapia. Fufu, akple, and konkonte are served with soup.
Most of the dishes mentioned above are served during lunch and supper in modern Ghana. However, it is not uncommon to find agrarian communities having these meals before farm work in the morning.
In large cities, working-class people would often take tea, cocoa, oats, rice porridge (locally called rice water), kooko (fermented maize porridge) and koose/akara or maasa (rice and maize meal fritters). Other breakfast foods include ekuegbemi (grits), oblayo (maize porridge), tombrown (roasted maize porridge), and millet porridge the most popular foods are jollof rice and fufu.
Bread is an important feature in Ghanaian breakfast and baked foods. Ghanaian bread which is known for its good quality in West Africa is baked with wheat flour and sometimes cassava flour is added for an improved texture. There are four types of bread in Ghana. They are tea bread (similar to the baguette), sugar bread (which is a sweet bread), brown (whole wheat) bread, and butter bread.
There are many savoury local foods which have been marginalised due to their demand and preparation process. Ghanaian savoury foods may be fried, barbecued, boiled, roasted, baked or steamed.
Fried savoury foods include cubed and Spiced Ripe Plantain (kelewele) sometimes served with peanuts. Koose (also called Acarajé or akara), maasa, pinkaaso, atsomo and bofrot (made from wheat flour); kuli-kuli, zowey and nkate cake (made from peanuts); krakro and tatale (ripe plantain fritters); kube cake and kube toffee (made from coconut); bankye krakro, gari biscuit, and krakye ayuosu (made from cassava); condensed milk, toffee, plantain chips and wagashi (fried farmer’s cheese) are fried local savory foods.
Kebabs are popular barbecues and can be made from beef, goat, pork, soy flour, sausages and guinea fowl. Other roasted savoury foods include roasted plantain, maize, yam and cocoyam.
Steamed fresh maize, Abolo, Yakeyake, Kafa, Akyeke, tubani/moimoi (bean cake), emo dokonu (rice cake) and esikyire dokonu (sweetened kenkey) are all examples of steamed and boiled foods whilst sweet bread, epitsi (plantain cake), ayigbe biscuit, and meat pie similar to Jamaican patties or the empanada are baked savoury foods.
Aprapransa, eto (mashed yam) and atadwe milk (tiger nut juice) are other savoury foods.
In the south, local drinks such as asaana (made from fermented maize) are common. In the Volta and Ashanti regions, palm wine extracted from the palm tree can be found, but it spoils quickly. It is much easier to find akpeteshie, a local gin distilled from palm wine, as it is nonperishable and highly potent. In addition, a beverage can be made from kenkey and refrigerated into what is locally known as iced kenkey. Among northern communities, fula, bokina, bisaab/sorrel, toose and lamujee (a spicy sweetened drink) are common non-alcoholic beverages whereas pitoo (a local gin made of fermented millet) is an alcoholic beverage.
In urban areas drinks may include cocoa drinks, fresh coconuts, yoghurt, ice cream, carbonated drinks, malt drinks and soy milk. In addition, Ghanaian distilleries produce alcoholic beverages from cocoa, malt, sugar cane, local medicinal herbs and tree barks. They include bitters, liqueur, dry gins, beer, and aperitifs.