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I would like to attempt a discussion about the diet here, as it is a central focus of our messages. However, though I’ve talked to many Ghanaians and I have tried most of these dishes, I know I may still get the exact ingredients and preparation wrong. So, I invite any Ghanaian (or anyone) who reads this to please comment and correct me!
Fish is obviously a great source of protein and full of nutrients that protect your heart. And they’ve got lots of it here, as Elmina is a coastal city and a major fishing hub! However, the most common way you will see fish in the market is salted and smoked, for preservation. The smoked fish is fine, but it’s the salted fish that is a concern for risk of heart disease. It is often cooked into a stew and salt is also added, making the entire dish very high in salt. We are suggesting to cook the salted fish first in water, to get some of the salt out before using it in a meal, or if cooked into a stew, don’t also add salt.
Fruits and vegetables abound here. I see bananas, mango, pineapple, oranges and watermelon everywhere – and I eat them as often as I can! Vegetables of all sorts are also in ample supply. But, like most places, it’s more expensive depending on the season and probably doesn’t go as far, when trying to feed a lot of people. We suggest to eat as much fruits and vegetables as often as possible – whichever ones are a favorite, or the most common and most affordable. They’re all good for you!
From speaking to people and paying attention to the signs on the street, the most popular dishes are:
Fufu and some sort of soup or stew (light soup, ground nut soup, fish stew)
Fufu is ground cassava and plantains. It requires a strenuous process to prepare – using a large stone bowl over a fire and essentially kneading (pounding with full force) the ingredients with a long, heavy wooden gavel, standing over the bowl. The soups vary – light soup is made with water, tomatoes and vegetables. Ground nut soup (ground nut is peanut) – the nuts are cooked over a fire in a stone bowl mixed with sand to heat them. When cooked, the nut is oily and pasty – a lot like peanut sauce in thai dishes. Fish stew can be prepared many ways. However, a common way to preserve fish here is by salting it. Once it’s ready to be cooked, it is added to broth (oil, water, tomatoes, etc.) and the salt flavors the soup. Smoked fish is also common here, which will also be used in soups giving a different flavor. All of the soups are often made with palm oil, which is most commonly a sweet red oil; though the palm nut can produce three different kinds of oils (black, white and red).
Banku and okro stew
Banku is maize, soaked in water for three days, giving it a sourdough taste. It is then cooked with plantains and eaten as a dough. Okro stew is made with okro and palm oil. Personally, I have not acquired the taste to enjoy okro in stew form. I’m not sure if I will take that opportunity now. The consistency is just too slimy for me. The consistency makes it difficult to eat too, as you eat the dish with your hands. You are supposed to twist the stew around your fingers. But because it’s slimy, I don’t have the skills to get much of it from the dish to my mouth. It’s a favorite here though!
Jolof rice and chicken
Jolof rice is white rice, cooked with tomatoes, tomato paste, spices and water or oil. The chicken comes fried or grilled. Rice, prepared in many ways, is popular here – especially a favorite of the kids.
Kenkey is made of maize and plantains. It is harder than a lot of the other starchy meals, like fufu and banku, which are doughy. It is closer to the consistency of a starchy biscuit.
Red-red and fried plantains
This is my favorite! Red-red is beans that are cooked in palm oil with tomatoes and onions, served with fried plantains. Very tasty!
I have tried all of these dishes except the light soup, which sounds like it may be the healthiest and most popular – I don’t know why I haven’t had it! I wasn’t aware of it when I was here in October. It’s on the agenda!
Most of these dishes are made with palm oil, and usually a lot of it. Both salt and palm oil are used in excess in most Ghanaian dishes. This is something that we are focusing on, as we talk about ways to eat more consciously of your heart health. We are certainly not saying, “no more palm oil, no more salt!”, as the traditional food here is certainly a big part of their culture, and we’re not trying to change that. Our message is “moderation, moderation, moderation”! Use less palm oil, less salt, less sweets. Often stews and soups are cooked in palm oil and is also added on top. It’s this kind of cooking preparation that we’re giving attention to.
Vince and I are waiting for the day a fish taco stand appears on the street – they’ve got all the ingredients! Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy trying all these new tastes (and consistencies)!!
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The International Cardiovascular Health Alliance (ICHA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cardiovascular health in the developing world. ICHA works closely with local clinics and community organizations to provide knowledge and tools to prevent cardiovascular disease.
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