Main staple foods
The typical Ghanaian staple foods in the southern part of Ghana include cassava and plantain. In the northern part, the main staple foods include millet and sorghum. Yam, maize and beans are used across Ghana as staple foods. Sweet potatoes and cocoyam are also important in the Ghanaian diet and cuisine. With the advent of globalization, crops such as rice and wheat have been increasingly incorporated into Ghanaian cuisine. The foods below represent Ghanaian dishes made out of these staple foods.
Foods made with maize
Kenkey/Dokonu – fermented corn dough, wrapped in corn originating from the Ga who call it komi or Ga kenkey. Another variety originating from the Fanti is Fante Dokono or Fanti Kenkey which is wrapped with plantain leaves that give it a different texture, flavor and colour as compared to the Ga kenkey. Both are boiled for long periods into a consistent solid balls.
Tuo Zaafi – a millet, sorghum or maize dish originating from Northern Ghana
Fonfom – a maize dish popular in south western Ghana
Foods made with rice
Omo Tuo/Rice ball – mashed cooked rice
Plain rice – boiled rice
Jollof rice – rice with tomatoes, spices, and meat boiled together, originating with Djolof traders from Senegal who settled in the Zongos before the colonial period. Adapted for local Ghanaian tastes.
Fried rice – Chinese-style fried rice adapted to Ghanaian tastes.
Foods made with cassava
Gari – made from cassava
Foods made with beans
A deviation to the starch and stew combination are "Red Red" and "tubaani". These are primarily based on vegetable protein (beans). "Red Red" is a popular Ghanaian bean and meat stew served with fried ripe plantain and often accompanied with gari and avocado. It earns its name from the palm oil that tints the bean stew and the bright orange color of the fried ripe plantain.
Foods made with yam
Ampesie – boiled yam. It may also be made with plantain, cocoyam or cassava.
Yam fufu – Fufu made with yam instead of cassava or plantain or cocoyam. It is popular in Northern and southeastern Ghana.
Soups and stews
Most Ghanaian dishes are served with a stew, soup or a spicy condiment made from raw red and green chilies, onions and tomatoes (pepper sauce). Ghanaian stews and soups are quite sophisticated with liberal and delicate use of exotic ingredients, a wide variety of flavours, spices and textures.
Vegetables such as palm nuts, peanuts, cocoyam leaves, ayoyo, spinach, wild mushroom, okra, garden eggs (eggplant), tomatoes and various types of pulses are the main ingredients in Ghanaian soups and stews and in the case of pulses, may double as the main protein ingredient.
Beef, pork, goat, sheep, chicken, and fish are common sources of protein in Ghanaian soups and stews sometimes mixing different types of meat into one soup. It is also common to find more exotic meat and sea food in Ghanaian soups and stews.
Meat, mushrooms and seafood may be smoked, salted or dried for flavour enhancement and preservation. Spices such as thyme, garlic, onions, ginger, peppers, curry, basil, nutmeg, sumbala, Tetrapleura tetraptera (prekese) and bay leaf are delicately used to achieve the exotic and spicy flavours that characterizes Ghanaian cuisine.
Palm oil, coconut oil, shea butter, palm kernel oil and peanut oil are important Ghanaian oils used for cooking or frying and may sometime not be substituted in certain Ghanaian dishes. For example, using palm oil in okro stew, eto, fante fante, red red, egusi stew and mpihu/mpotompoto (similar to Poi). Coconut oil, palm kernel oil and shea butter have lost their popularity for cooking in Ghana due to the introduction of refined oils and negative Ghanaian media adverts targeted at those oils. They are now mostly used in few traditional homes, for soap making and by commercial (street food) food vendors as a cheaper substitute to refined cooking oils.
Most of the dishes mentioned above are served during lunch and supper in modern Ghana. However, those engaged in manual labour and a large number of urban dwellers still eat these foods for breakfast and will usually buy them from the streets.
In large Ghanaian cities, working-class people would often take fruits, tea, chocolate drink, oats, rice porridge (locally called rice water) or kooko (fermented maize porridge) and koose/akara or maasa (rice, banana and maize meal fritters). Other breakfast foods include grits, tombrown (roasted maize porridge), and millet porridge.
Bread is an important feature in Ghanaian breakfast and baked foods. Ghanaian bread which is known for its good quality is baked with wheat flour and sometimes cassava flour is added for an improved texture. There are four major 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. Rye bread, oat bread and malt bread are also quite common.
There are many sweet local foods which have been marginalized due to their low demand and long preparation process. Ghanaian sweet foods (or confectionery) may be fried, barbecued, boiled, roasted, baked or steamed.
Fried sweet foods include cubed and spiced ripe plantain (kelewele) sometimes served with peanuts. Koose made from peeled beans (and its close twin Acarajé or akara made from beans which is not peeled), maasa, pinkaaso, and ballfloat/puff-puff (made from wheat flour); kuli-kuli, dzowey and nkate cake (made from peanuts); kaklo 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 (or fried plantain) and wagashi (fried farmer's cheese) are fried Ghanaian savory foods (confectionery).
Steamed fresh maize, 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, (plantain cake), and meat pie similar to Jamaican patties and empanadas are baked savoury foods. Aprapransa, eto (mashed yam) and atadwe milk (tiger nut juice) are other savory foods. Gari soakings is a modern favorite. It is a blend of gari (dried, roasted cassava), sugar, groundnut (peanut) and milk.
In south Ghana, Ghanaian drinks such as asaana (made from fermented maize) are common. Along the Ghanaian Lake Volta and south Ghana, palm wine extracted from the palm tree can be found, but it ferments quickly and then it is used to distil akpeteshie (a local gin).Akpeteshie can be distilled from molasses too. In addition, a beverage can be made from kenkey and refrigerated into what is in Ghana known as iced kenkey. Along north Ghana, bisaab/sorrel, toose and lamujee (a spicy sweetened drink) are common non-alcoholic beverages whereas pitoo (a local beer made of fermented millet) is an alcoholic beverage.
In urban areas of Ghana drinks may include fruit juice, drinks, cocoa drinks, fresh coconut juice, yogurt, 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.
Street foods in Ghana
Street foods are very popular in Ghana, both in the rural and urban areas. Most Ghanaian families eat at least three times in a week from a street food vendor. Almost all kind of foods can be bought from street vendors. Some of these foods includes, staple foods such as kenkey, red red and waakye. Other savoury foods such as kebab, boiled corn cob, ballfloat (bo-float) and roasted plantain are sold mainly by street food vendors.
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