Monday, January 20, 2014

Eating in Ghana: Where’s my Jollof and Chicken?

Michelle Robinson

One of the most notable experiences on any trip abroad is trying all the various types of food that are staples to the people and their culture. Little did I know that the Ghanaian food and dining experiences we had would become some of the moments that left the biggest imprint on our trip.

I was a little worried for myself and my classmates at first because a few of us are vegetarians or pescetarians, meaning eating fish but not other meat. I came to Ghana knowing that I’d be willing to try all types of food that I could, but food turned out to be more of a struggle than I’d expected.

This willingness to try anything took me by surprise though, seeing as on the second day of the trip THIS was my dinner. Never had I been served an entire fish on a plate before.

 Besides the obvious distraction of scales and picking bones out of my mouth, the fish tasted great. But Dr. Kalyango convinced me that I had to try the fish eye, which he said was the best part. I remember Dr K telling me that the eye would just slide down my throat like ice cream and that I would crave fish eye for every meal. I don’t know what he was thinking though, because that slimy eye had no resemblance whatsoever to ice cream….

Over the next few weeks we all had the opportunity to try some special Ghanaian staple-dishes. We became very familiar with the likes of jollof rice, waakye, red red, fried chicken, tilapia, banku, and the ever delicious fried plantains, which were my favorite. 

In fact, we began to expect (and in Josh’s case, CRAVE) jollof for every group meal.

A video by AdomHomeCooking on how to prepare Ghanaian Jollof

Everyone was very willing to try new things, but we found that group dinners became a little notorious for being disastrous to a degree. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved our group dinners and found they were a great bonding experience for all of us. But customer service in Ghana is so much different than that in America, which became one of the biggest learning experiences of all in terms of my ability to be patient.

Unlike what we expect in the United States, restaurants actually do have a limited supply of food for the day. I don’t think any local restaurant in Ghana expects a group of 20-something hungry young adults to swarm their restaurant all at once, therefore weren’t always able to cater to our needs and stomachs. We often joked that it took so long because the cooks had to go out and catch our fish or chicken before they prepared it for us. 

Oftentimes our meals would span over several hours, with some people being fed super early, some not getting their food for 3 hours, and some not being fed at all. When the kitchen would run out of a certain type of food they wouldn’t tell us until it was too late, and orders were sometimes forgotten. It was not uncommon to hear someone say "Where's my jollof and chicken?" at every meal. Although it was frustrating, we became very good at sharing our food family-style to make sure no one would leave hungry.

After two weeks I did get sick of eating rice and beans for every meal. Also, the Ghanaians were shocked whenever I ordered food without meat, and would try to force some protein onto my plate, much to my demise. 

Even though I was glad to try new things, I’m willing to admit that we all jumped on the chance to eat pizza whenever we could. I didn’t realize how much I’d miss bread and cheese, or other dairy products. And even though we may have all gotten upset stomachs from the food which led to nights with the toilet, and even though I don’t want to eat rice and beans again for a very long time, I’m happy that Ghana gave me the opportunity to expand my culinary diary and open my eyes to new foods. As I reflect on the food experiences from Ghana, I leave you with this closing haiku:

The fish was fresher
The pineapple was sweeter
Jollof is spicy

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