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]

How to eat fufu in Ghana, Africa

When traveling, experiencing the food of a culture can be one of the most exciting parts of the journey. Not only can you learn a lot about a group of people by their dining etiquette, but eating itself is fun.

Recently, I was lucky enough to take a trip to Ghana in Western Africa where dining rules and the cuisine itself differ greatly from that of Western culture. One specialty that is a local favorite, as well as a dish on every visitor’s list of foods to try, is fufu.

At first glance, fufu looks just like a lump of mashed potatoes sitting in some kind of soup. In your head you may picture yourself picking up a spoon, dipping it into the soft, creamy mound, and putting it into your mouth without a care in the world. Possibly it will taste buttery, and maybe there will even be some onions or chives in there.

If this is what you’re thinking, then you have never actually experienced fufu.

Fufu is a cassava-based dish. Basically, the root-based plant is boiled in water then pounded down with a mortar and pestle. What you have now is a thick dough-like mixture that needs to be ferociously stirred, which usually takes two people, one pounding the fufu with the long, wooden pestle and the other reaching in and moving it around in between the pounding. As an outsider, I always found this a bit hard to watch, as it always looked like the person moving the fufu around was moments away from losing their arm.Once the mixture is completely smooth you shape it into smaller balls, which are usually put into a soup and served with meat. Each time I had fufu, it was served with fried chicken in groundnut soup, a spicy broth made with a peanut base.

As most people who travel to Ghana will have their fufu made for them at a restaurant or someone’s house, the real task is knowing how to eat it. It is important to realize that in Ghana, eating with the left hand is considered extremely disrespectful. In this country, and many other Africa countries, your left hand is used for cleaning yourself (i.e. when you use the toilet) and the right hand is used for eating and handing things to others. Moreover, while Western dining etiquette places an emphasis on silverware, fufu, like much of the cuisine in Ghana, is eaten with the hands (the right hand, to be specific).

Before dining, two bowls filled with water will be placed in front of you, one for washing your hands before the meal, and one for washing your hands after. To eat this dish, break off a small piece of the fufu and make a small indentation in it. Use this indentation to scoop up some of the soup, then place it in your mouth, and, without chewing, swallow. Yes, I said without chewing. I found this concept very difficult to grasp for some reason, as instinct tells most of us to chew our food. However, my Ghanian companion would scold me, saying, “You don’t need to chew it, it’s already soft!”

The texture is a lot like gum, as there is a stretchiness too it, but also a bit more doughy. While a bit flavorless itself, dipping it into the soup gives it a spicy peanut flavor while adding some consistency to the meal. Once you remember the etiquette and get used to eating soup with your hands, it becomes quite simple to enjoy this local Ghanian favorite.

Check out this video on how to make fufu: