Fufu, Banku or Kenkey?

I have my preferences, personally. It’s been a week, and I’ve sampled a few of the local dishes. Perhaps the most well-known is fufu (FOO-foo). Fufu is ubiquitous in West Africa; it’s a staple starch that’s often eaten with stew. It’s made with boiled cassava and plantains that are pounded. And pounded. And pounded. And pounded. Until they form a cohesive, gelatinous mass. I got to witness this process, at the home of a friend of Theo’s, Barbara.

Two folks pounding fufu

Pounding fufu is a delicate dance. He lifts up the stick while she turns the ball of fufu in the bowl. She moves her hand away, he slams down the business end of the stick. This all happens amazingly fast.

The fufu team posing for a picture

They're a great team.

When it’s judged sufficiently smooth and sticky, the fufu is formed into neat little balls that, traditionally, are plunked right into the stew.

A bowl of stew with fufu in the middle and meat right on top

Here it is, in a traditional bowl and everything.

You break off a small piece of the fufu ball with the fingertips of your right hand (only eating with your right hand is very important in traditional homes) and make a hole in it with your thumb. You now have a fufu spoon! Scoop up the broth, break off a bit of meat, and enjoy.

A group of us eating fufu and stew

That soup was spicy! The food was all cooked outdoors in a wonderful outdoor kitchen. Outdoor kitchens keep it from getting too hot inside the house, of course, and they're also a really nice place for the family to hang out while the meal is being prepared.

Barbara was really nice about the fact that I couldn’t make it through that huge bowl. Theo kept telling me sternly that it was very rude not to eat all or nearly all of the food given to you in a traditional home. It was only my third day! I could barely eat toast yet. Soon I’m sure I’ll be plowing through fufu like there’s no tomorrow.

We’d originally stopped by Barbara’s house to pick up some plantains leftover from the funeral. (It was Barbara’s mother-in-law who passed away last week.) Barbara’s daughter thought it would be funny if she took fashion shots of me carrying plantains on my head. Carrying things on your head – lots of them – is a way of life here.

Me with plantains on my head.

All in good fun, I'm sure...

On to KENKEY… After my fufu adventure, I think Theo was a bit wary about giving me a whole plate of wonderful food to ruin. So the next day she ordered some fish and kenkey (KEHN-kay) and let me try it. Though I found fufu difficult, kenkey was a breeze. It’s made with ground corn meal.  It’s pounded, but not for as long as fufu, so it has a grainer texture, similar to maza, which is used in Mexican cooking, and which I’ve have plenty of the in the States.

And finally, BANKU…. Last night, I got to try banku (BAHN-koo). I was nervous about banku, because like fufu, it’s pounded until it can be formed into a sticky ball. But like kenkey, it is apparently made with corn meal, and typically also plantains. The corn meal is allowed to ferment a bit, which gives it a mildly sour flavor.  Banku is usually served with soup, stew or pepper sauce and fish. We – Regina and I – had it with fish. Really really good fish.

Banku and fish

The little balls wrapped in plastic are banku. You can see the fish at the top, served whole with a generous portion of spicy pepper sauce.

Regina is one of the other Americans here on the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship. She’s friends with a professor in the College of Public Health, who brought us to this awesome “joint” for dinner.

Regina at the fish joint

This is Regina. The fish joint was on a fairly busy road just outside campus.

So now I’ve tried all three staple starches: fufu, banku and kenkey. Banku and kenkey are definitely my favorites, but fufu is unavoidable here, so I’m sure I’ll acquire a palate for it. Eventually.

One of the other culinary highlights from my week was grilled corn. I moved to campus in Legon on Thursday, and have been exploring the food options available…

Grilled corn

Grilled corn from a stand on campus. It isn't boiled, so it has a hard/chewy texture.

And then there are plantains. Fried plantains. They are so, so, SO delicious. And one variation, kelewele (KELLY-welly), is particularly dangerous. Kelewele is a spicy, deep-fried version of fried plantains. Rotarian President Ben gave me a tour of Tema the night before I moved to Legon, and we finished off the evening with a visit to local kelewele shop.

A woman preparing kelewele

The kelewele is frying in the pot in the right corner, while the lady who runs the shop is packing up orders that have been allowed to cool slightly.

Kelewele

Spicy, hot, fried plantains. Mmmmm....

Later, more on beans, fruit, jollof rice, plantain chips, milo, and the sweetest pineapple on the planet….and hopefully I’ll soon get to try the fabled groundnut stew.

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