VIDEO: Nima Market In Accra, Ghana

Accra, the capital of Ghana, is an established point on the African tourism trail thanks to its good flight and cruise connections, its Anglophone accessibility, its beautiful beaches and the stability of the nation.

Less often seen, however, is Nima Market. Located in one of the poorest areas of the city and home to many migrants from rural Ghana and nearby countries coming to the big city in search of work, it is the heartbeat of the neighborhood. This video takes us on a slow walk through the stalls.

The best thing about this video is that the cameraman uses a lot of close-ups, giving us a shopper’s-eye view of all the food for sale, from the delicious-looking tomatoes to the humongous snails. There are also a lot of fruits and vegetables most Westerners would have trouble naming.

While the produce and the clothing are colorful, you can see that all is not well in Nima. Many of the people have a careworn look, and the man selling shoes only wears a pair of battered flip-flops on his own feet. This blog post by Ghanean blogger and journalist Zainabu Issah highlights some of the challenges the vendors at Nima Market face.

The harder side of life is a part of travel that we can’t shut our eyes to, and witnessing the struggles of people in other cultures can open our own minds. It’s these insights that are often the most important part of our trip.

Video: Lunch In A Village In Burkina Faso

It’s lunchtime in Taga, a village in Burkina Faso, West Africa. A guy is milking the cows and the women are working over the stove. Kids are running around making noise and getting in the way. It’s just like lunch at my house – well, not quite.

That’s what I love about this video. There are so many similarities – the laughing kids, the idle chatter, taking some time off work in the middle of the day to enjoy family – that I can almost forget the thatched huts and chickens. The greatest thing travel teaches us is how similar people are under all the superficial differences.

One of the bigger differences is the slow pace of life in this village. It’s a tranquil video too – great for inspiring relaxation on your own lunch break. For a different look at life in the same country, check out this video of driving through the capital Ouagadougou.

By the way, anyone out there know what the gray seeds are that the woman is putting in the milk?

Traveler’s guide to local and western food in Ghana, Africa

When visiting Ghana, Africa, unless you are at the mall in the capital city of Accra or staying at a resort or hotel, you will most likely find yourself eating food that is far from Western comfort cuisine. Here is a guide to some of the typical foods you will find in Ghana, as well as some surprising favorites from home you’ll be able to find in the small shops.

Local meals

Banku with tilapia

Banku is a thick dough ball made from fermented maize. The thick matter is stirred rigorously in a pot and has a similar, gum-like texture to the other main starch staple in Ghana, Fufu (see below), and is usually served with a stew and/or tilapia. The proper way to eat it is to grab a piece of the dough ball, create an indentation with your finger, and scoop up some palm oil or stew, swallowing it without chewing. The dish is very similar to Kenkey, another Ghanian staple, although the preparation and cooking time vary slightly. Many westerners may be a little hesitant to try the tilapia (I know I was), as it still has the head, tail, and scales in tact. Simply use your hands to peel back the scales and pull out chunks of meat with your fingers, being careful not to grab any bones.Boiled yams with palaver sauce

Boiled yams are kind of similar to baked potatoes but a little sweeter, and the palaver sauce is actually a kind of stew with vegetables, meat, and chunks of fish. Often times in Ghana I would feel weak due to lack of protein, and would eat the palaver sauce by itself, which is definitely one of the best options for a meat-filled dish.

Fufu with ground nut soup

Usually served in a spicy peanut-broth base, fufu is cooked using cassava, a starchy root plant that is pounded down with a mortar and pestle to create a gum-textured ball. To eat it like a local, rip off a piece with yours hands, create an indentation with your finger and use it to scoop up some soup, then swallow without chewing. It is often served with pieces of fried chicken or fish.

Rice water and jollof rice

Now these two forms of rice are completely different; while rice water is a staple breakfast meal that is very salty and is basically cooked rice with extra water added, jollof rice is stir-fried in tomato paste, making it more flavorful than usual cooking rice, and is usually served with meat for lunch or dinner.

Red red with plantains

This was hands down my favorite food in Ghana, and is probably the most “Western” of the local dishes. It is a mixture of black eyed peas, bonnet peppers, onions, palm oil, and crushed tomatoes. The reason it’s called “red red” is because the palm oil mixed with the tomatoes creates a thick, red base that stains the entire plate. It is usually served with deep fried plantains that are very soft and sweet.

Snacks and street food

Snail kebabs

Snail in general is a food favorite in Ghana, whether you boil it, fry it, or put it on a kebab. In fact, when I was doing orphanage work there the children loved to go snail hunting at night and would boil them and put them on a toothpick to snack on. When you’re in the markets or you see hawkers selling kebabs that look like they have succulent mushrooms on them, be aware that they are actually snails. I tried one, and will say that they are extremely salty and very tough and chewy.

Brown nut paste

Brown nut paste is basically the Ghanian take on peanut butter, however, it is a lot thicker and creamier. It doesn’t have any additives so it has a very natural taste to it, basically like eating “creamed” peanuts. If you walk around the outdoor markets, you will often be able to ask for a small sample before purchasing some for yourself. It tastes really good on biscuits or cookies with a bit of Nutella added.


There are many fruits you’ll be able to get from the markets in Ghana, depending what city you’re in; bananas, grapes, apples, mangoes, avocados, tomatoes. However, the evo was my favorite, and also the most interesting in flavor and appearance. The outside is green and prickly and you break it open with your hands to reveal a cotton-candy like inside (see right). The taste is sweet and fizzy, kind of like a fruit-flavored soda pop.

Fan Ice

Almost everywhere you go, you will see locals riding around on bicycles with coolers attached advertising Fan Ice. It’s the Ghanaian version of the ice cream truck, and for 40-60 pesewas (about 25-35 cents), you can get a chocolate, vanilla, or strawberry yogurt Fan Ice pop. These are extremely refreshing after a long day in the African sun.

Fried chicken with fried yam

This is probably the closest you’ll get to a meal in terms of street food. It’s exactly what it sounds like, pieces of fried chicken served with fried yam, basically the Ghanian version of chicken nuggets and fries. There are usually women walking around carrying a small take-out station on their heads, and you can literally just smile and ask “Wa ye sen?” (How much is it?).

Abru ne nkatea

This was one of my favorite snacks to make with the children at the orphanage, and both locals and Westerners love it. It’s basically un-popped popcorn kernals with nuts simmered in sugar and is really sweet and crunchy.

Meat pies

These are really easy to find in the markets and just walking down the street in most cities in Ghana. Locals walk around with small display cases on their heads filled with meat pies. It’s basically a pie type crust filled with beef and vegetables. Warning: Sometimes the meat pies are severely lacking in meat, although you will not know this until you purchase one. If you’re really craving protein, opt for the fried chicken and fried yams.

Roasted maize

Roasted maize in Ghana looks similar to roasted corn on the cob, although it tastes a lot sweeter, like kettle corn. It’s a really cheap, quick snack if you’re hungry.

Western finds

Again, you’ll be able to find Western foods at resorts, hotels, and the Accra Mall, usually for an expensive price. However, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in an area that only features small wooden stalls, hawkers, and “restaurants” that are actually the homes of locals. Every once in awhile you’ll be able to find a convenience store, and will possibly be able to find some of these comforts from home:

  • Cans of beans- This became my favorite food in Ghana as their diet is high in starch, carbs, and fried foods. When you just want wholesome protein, beans are really satisfying.
  • Chocolate soy milk- Okay, so it’s not real milk; it’s still refreshing. And, it has (soy) protein.
  • Snickers- They don’t taste exactly like a normal snickers but they have the same package and when you’re desperate, will taste just like heaven.
  • Corn flakes- Cereal is a little expensive in Ghana, but tastes just like the stuff from home.
  • Nutella- Brand-name Nutella is extremely expensive in Ghana, but luckily they sell a knock-off brand that is almost as good and half the price.
  • Laughing Cow cheese- Little access to refrigeration means you’ll be seeing very little cheese. Since Laughing Cow doesn’t need to be refrigerated, it’s the perfect purchase.
  • Cookies/biscuits/bread- Lots of varieties of these carb and snack staples, so you’ll be able to find something similar to the kind you enjoy at home.

[all photos via jessieonajourney aside for the Nutella photo, which is from Like_the_Grand_Canyon on flickr]

Suya: the next kebab?

One of the great things about the world getting smaller and everyone getting all mixed up is that we can try fast food from all different cultures. Take suya, for example. I’d never heard of this Nigerian fast food until I lived in London.

My house was on the northern end of Old Kent Road. This area has a large population of African immigrants. I met people from Nigeria, Ghana, and Ethiopia, and I’m sure many other countries are represented. The Nigerians were very visible with lots of restaurants selling suya. It’s like shish kebab with beef, chicken, goat, or fish. The meat is rubbed with tankora powder. There are various recipes for tankora and generally include red pepper, powdered nuts, salt, ginger, paprika, and onion powder. Check out this tankora recipe if you want to try it at home.

As you can imagine, it’s pretty thirst inducing. Luckily many suya restaurants serve palm wine, a smooth, tasty alcoholic drink that’s not too strong. Many restaurants also have live music. West African music is very participatory, with the singer pointing to various members of the audience and staff and making up verses about them. I always got included but not knowing any West African languages I had no idea what the singers said. :-)

I’m thinking suya could replace kebab, which is currently the snack food of choice in London, especially at two o’clock in the morning after ten pints of lager. I’ve never liked kebab, which in most places is unhealthy and more than a little nasty, so suya would make the perfect replacement. It’s filling, salty, and quick, all the things you need after a good pub crawl, and with live music and palm wine thrown in, it makes the perfect end (or start!) to a fun evening out.

This photo, courtesy secretlondon123, shows some of Presidential Suya’s takeaway, with beef suya on the left and chicken suya on the right. Presidential Suya is one of my favorite West African restaurants in London.

Taste of the Ivory Coast in the NYC

Treichville may be a neighborhood in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, but it is also a restaurant in New York City, both of which I have never explored personally. However, for a sampling of the Ivory Coast and for less than half the cost one may consider swinging in for some fare. This Village Voice piece does a fine job taking us to the real Treichville by describing its bustling open-air markets, transportation terminals and nightclubs complete with French influence, yet the most African part of town. And just as quickly as the writer takes us across the Atlantic he ships us back across to the Treichville located at 339 East 118th Street, NYC where crab legs, mussels, clams, and shrimp can all be found on the menu.

From the sound of the piece it looks worth filling your tummy with a plate full. Again, I’ve never been, but if I were near by, without a question I’d be fueling up too.