We featured Esther in the first and second part of our series on Ghana where we delved into her job as a marketing manager for a beverage company in Ghana, as well as her first impressions of the West African state. This week, we talk to Esther about Ghanaian food and culture.
How is the food in Ghana?
To be honest, I rarely eat Ghanaian food as it comprises of a lot heavy stews. Instead, I usually get my Ghanaian domestic helper to shop and prepare the vegetables or meat for me before I do my own cooking. I tend to go more for Thai or Japanese food (sometimes the occasional pizza or burger) when I eat out for lunch or dinner as it is closer to what I’m used to eating in Singapore.
Ghanaian food is a lot more than fufu! Some of my hot favourites I’ve tried are:
Fufu with groundnut soup. They like to eat it with goat meat but I prefer salmon or tuna in it!
Waakaye rice – The dish is usually paired with meat or fish, spaghetti noodles, gari, spicy sauce, salad and a boiled egg.
Grilled chicken with fried rice
Banku with Okro Stew. Banku is made with cooked fermented corn dough and cassava dough.
Grilled bbq khebabs and sausages.
I strongly urge Singaporeans who are interested in venturing abroad to research on the local food culture of the country they are going to as they must mentally be prepared to adapt themselves well to local cuisine. However, I would say that compared to Westerners, the average Singaporean will most probably have no problems savouring spicy and peppery Ghanaian food as most of us are used to eating from a spicy and gastronomic palate from our diverse food culture.
Accra now has more variety of international cuisine as compared to two years ago (More are still coming!). There are fast food joints (Zoozoos, Papaye’s, Marwakos), good places for burger and western finger food (Chix and Ribs, Cuzzy Bros, Duplex), authentic Indian and Chinese restaurants (Heritage Indian Restaurant, Garden Indian, Regal Chinese Rest), classic French restaurants (La Chaumiere, Le Magellan, Le Tandem), middle-eastern eateries and restaurants (Chase, Yasmina, DNR Turkish), homey Italian restaurants and good pizza places (La Piazza, Shisha Lounge, Il Cavaliere Pazzo), Japanese restaurants (Monsoon, Santoku, Rockafellas) and continental African fare serving food from other parts of Africa (Buka Restaurant, Tam Tam, La Tante Marie).
African fashion; which utilizes and integrates local fabric and print with modern designs and concepts, is rapidly evolving and hugely popular in the entire continent
As a fresh intern who initially knew nothing about Ghana, I remembered in my first year that I did not pack any formal clothing or high heels in my suitcase because I thought there would be no occasion for nice outfits or any proper ground to totter about in uncomfortable heels. I was so wrong in my assumption.Ghanaians are a lot more fashion conscious and formal compared to Singaporeans who mostly dress for comfort. You will see Ghanaian men walking about on the main road in the hot sun wearing three-piece working suits with a tie and not breaking a sweat about it.
African fashion; which celebrates, utilizes and integrates local fabric and print with modern designs and concepts, is rapidly evolving and hugely popular in the entire continent with its influence spreading rapidly to Europe, America and even Japan. As fashion and champagne go hand-in-hand, I had the opportunity of partnering with some high profile fashion and pageantry events in the country like ‘Miss Ghana’ and ‘Ghana Fashion Week’ with Moet & Chandon as the sponsor.
It is also a common practice for local employees to wear clothing made from a customised a fabric printed with the company colours and logos for Friday ‘office’ wear. I was given a bolt of cloth printed all over with my company logo during my first day of work. I tailored it into a dress.
You can easily buy anything when you’re stuck in traffic – scratch-cards with units to top up your pre-paid phone credit, a sachet of water, a bunch or grapes or apples, local aphrodisiacs, any assortment of phone chargers, children’s storybooks… even puppies!
Tailoring clothes with local fabric is very common in Ghana. Practically every NGO volunteer and expatriate I’ve met has left with some tailored apparel made from Ghanaian fabric and prints (My mother loves them!). It is very common for girls especially to get creative- selecting and designing your own outfit to be tailored. You can even get your tailor to take your measurements at your doorstep. Something I like about Ghana is that any type of shopping you need could come to you in just a phone call away. I usually do the bulk of my shopping in Ghana by calling one of my suppliers to bring the latest available clothes, bags or shoes for me to make a quick purchase during my lunchtime.
The practice of hawking is prevalent on the road. It is a common sight to see Ghanaians touting different wares by balancing them on their head. You can easily buy anything when you’re stuck in traffic – scratch-cards with units to top up your pre-paid phone credit, a sachet of water (They call it ‘Pure’ water), a bunch or grapes or apples, local aphrodisiacs like ‘tigernut’ and ‘moringa’, any assortment of phone chargers, children’s storybooks… even puppies!
Ghana social life
Ghanaians believe that it’s good to depart with a ‘bang’ and thus funerals are a huge occasion for people to party. I think it is certainly not a bad way ‘to go’.
Fashion and formal dress is very much an integral part of Ghanaian culture, work and social life. The social life for the average Ghanaian revolves around three main occasions; weddings, funerals and Sunday church.
Ghana’s funeral, especially, is very different from Singapore. The Ghanaian funeral fabrics comprise of a sombre black and severe shade of red; uncannily close to the colour of blood. However, a Ghanaian funeral can be easily mistaken for a festive carnival, as you will see people eating, drinking and dancing all night long. Ghanaians believe that it’s good to depart with a ‘bang’ and thus funerals are a huge occasion for people to party. I think it is certainly not a bad way ‘to go’.
Public Transportation: Tro-tros
During my internship where money was tight, my friends and I tried cutting out on unnecessary expenses by taking the tro-tro, Ghana’s cheapest means of public transport, averaging less than US$1. The tro-tro is basically a small mini-van, which can amazingly pack in 16 to 20 people like a can of sardines. Most of the tro-tros are second or even third-hand mini-vans brought into Ghana from other countries and mostly comprise of functional car-parts that make it run.
Interestingly, there are also hardly any proper tro-tro stops. You will know it’s a tro-tro stop when you see people standing by the side of the road. Tro-tros also do not have bus numbers or signboards written on them to inform passengers where they are going. Instead, you will have to look out for the tro-tro conductor who will stick half his body out of the window and either shout out the destination or show the hand-signal that indicates the destination. For instance, the hand-signal to get a tro-tro to Kwame Nkrumah Circle is to point your index finger downward and keep swirling it in a circular motion. The tro-tro conductor will also shout ‘cirque-cirque-cirque’ (the short form of circle) relentlessly to inform the people waiting. Travellers would definitely need to ask around if they want to ride the tro-tro to get to somewhere. Ghanaians are really friendly and helpful in this aspect; some will even escort you to the right tro-tro.
Shampoo stock up
I almost gave in when one lady offered me $400 to shave my whole head!
Unlike most Asian’s straight hair, natural African hair is very thick and grows in tiny springy helix-shapes which creates an appearance of a denser and drier texture and quite ‘prone to breakage’. As such they only need to wash their hair once every week or longer than that.
Shampoos and conditioners were only available in the malls and supermarkets in town as they were ‘imported goods’ that were relatively more expensive. You bet I stocked up on 12 to 15 bottles of Herbal Clairol Essence’ shampoos and conditioners from Fairprice in Singapore before my next return. My long straight hair garnered a lot of attention from Ghanaian ladies who very often offered to purchase my whole head of hair so that they can weave it into their own scalp or have it made into a wig. I almost gave in when one lady offered me $400 to shave my whole head!
Braiding my hair
The hair industry in Ghana is very lucrative. Every hair salon sells real human hair from Brazil and India and many stock synthetic hair, catering to the demand of the Ghanaian/ African women to obtain a flowing headful of straight hair. Going to the salon is a weekend past-time and Ghanaians have no qualms spending the entire day in the salon. While this is so, I’ve also met Ghanaians who love their natural hair and twist it artfully into beautiful dreads or braids.
The skilful art of hair braiding is a historically long tradition that is still prevalent today and many foreigners like myself have gone to the salon for a hair-braiding experience. I braided my hair the day I left Ghana to return to Singapore for my first annual break. I remembered I had to buy a whole packet of fake locks that would be woven with my own hair into braids. The hair-braiding fee was cheap ( about SGD 15) but the process was long, tedious and really painful as the stylist kept tugging so hard during the braiding at my scalp.
Still, it was really fun to see my parents bursting into a flabbergasted look of awe when I walked out from the arrival hall. I received alot of compliments from my family and friends on my ‘new African hair-do’ but I had to give it up after 4 days as the braids became too uncomfortable on my scalp. It took my mother and my sister 2 hours to help me unbraid my hair and I did lose a lot of my natural hair in the process. Nonetheless, it was a memorable lifetime experience!