Reunions: It was pretty awesome to have the opportunity to reunite with everyone whom I haven’t seen in two years. Some I was able to tell about my impending arrival, but I also thoroughly enjoyed the reaction of those whom I surprised. When I came knocking on Ida’s host mom’s door, she exclaimed, “Oh my- are you a ghost?!”
Above: Host Mom at home
Below: Auntie Charity, my culinary school teacher, at Flair
Two of this year’s YES Abroad students in Cape Coast:
The Food: It’s been at least two years since I’ve had solid Ghanaian food. Sure, I can make it, but the ingredients can be a bit difficult to find in the US, and time is pretty limited with college classes and in college, time is pretty limited. Following are several of my favorite dishes.
Groundnut soup with omo tuo (peanut butter soup with rice balls)
Jollof rice (rice cooked in tomato stew) with fried chicken:
Okra stew with goat meat:
Ezile Bay Village Ecolodge: I ended my return to Ghana with two days in Ezile Bay Village. This off the beaten path Akwidda ecolodge is a beach paradise. After planning over 10 countries, it was nice to do some good old fashioned relaxing (and soccer).
Before arriving, I had no idea what Burmese food would taste like. I knew Burma was between India and Thailand on a map, and guessed it would be some sort of combination of the two.It turns out I was partially right; their cuisine is heavily influenced by geography. Samosas and biryani were sold on the street, while their curry was to-die for.
For breakfast, the two most famous dishes are mohinga soup and fritters. Mohinga, the unofficial national dish, is a breakfast rice noodle soup in a fish broth made with lemon grass, garlic, ginger, and onions. Bone-shaped fritters and samosas are the most common street food, particularly around breakfast time. Because what could possibly start to your day better than deep-fried goodness? Burmese curry, one of the other national dishes, tasted different each time I ordered it. Some were lighter and almost souplike, but my favorite curry (pictured below) came as a thick paste on top of fried fish. The curry was very spicy and garlicy, but the main flavor was ginger. It reminded me almost of a heavier version of Thai curry, with even more aromatics herbs and spices. Many restaurant menus had a section dedicated for Thai food. In Bagan, I couldn’t help but order a bowl of red curry. Watercress seemed to be the vegetable of choice in Burma, appearing on most menus. On my final day in Yangon, a friend and I went to a Shan noodle restaurant. After staring at the six pages of noodles on the menu, I eventually chose Shan sticky noodle soup – mainly because I had no idea what sticky noodles were or would taste like.
While I was waiting for the Shan noodles to arrive, to my side a lady was stuffing dumplings with minced spinach and folding them.
After watching her complete the tray, I couldn’t help but order a plate. What I did not anticipate was how they arrived – fried in one large dumpling pancake. The top layer was as thin as paper, while the bottom of the dumplings remained soft and tender as if boiled.
Finally, my sticky noodle soup arrived. Let me tell you something – when Burmese people say ‘sticky’ noodles, they mean it. It took me several minutes to de-clump them enough to grab my first bite. But they were worth the effort. The noodles were fully cooked, yet chewy – and paired well with the full-bodied gingery, garlicy, fish and soy sauce broth. While five days certainly isn’t enough time to fully understand a culture or its food, I loved everything I tasted. Burmese food is extremely influenced by their geography next to Thailand, India, and China – all of which have cuisines I love. I look forward to breaking out my new Burmese cookbook and trying some new dishes when I return in August!
The premiere of the final African-themed Travel Channel special I assisted with during my year in Ghana with YES Abroad is fast approaching!
Street Foods International: February 13, 2013 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Following is the video of my appearance on Fast Foods Gone Global: Africa.
Note: ‘Caramelly’ definitely sounded like a real word to me when I was ‘in the moment’. I apologize immensely to every English teacher I’ve had over the previous 12 years. Here’s a cute kitty photo I took during the shoot to make up for me inventing words…
For Street Foods International, the upcoming show, I will make one solo cameo, one with my cooking school teacher Auntie Charity, and a final one with my fellow YES Abroad friends.
All in all it should make a pretty great episode with plenty of good Ghanaian eats including wagashi, okra stew, and the following pounded fermented rice pancake that I can’t seem to remember the local name of:
Anyways I hope y’all can find the time to tune into my next appearance! It was a blast having the opportunity to be Production Assistant, and I’m sure that the end result will be fantastic.
I am elated to announce the following dates for two African-themed Travel Channel specials that I assisted with during my year in Ghana with YES Abroad.
Fast Foods Gone Global: January 2, 2013 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Street Foods International: February 13, 2013 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time
EDIT: The show will replay on Wednesday, March 13 at 3:00 PM EST!
While I want to keep some aspects of this experience secret until the shows air, I do want to answer two questions about the experience in advance:
How did they find you?!
The first show I helped out with isFast Foods Gone Global. Coincidentally, I wrote a blog posted called Ghanaian Fast Food. Tremendous! Entertainment found this post, and we exchanged e-mails for multiple months. Eventually, I was asked to be their Production Assistant.
‘Production Assistant’ sounds fancy, what on earth did you do?!
Basically I assisted with scheduling, local-food knowledge and on-camera talent. Occasionally, I did voice-overs for the writers so they could know exactly what they were looking at being filmed.
For Fast Foods Gone Global, I was involved behind-the-scenes, although I may have a cameo or two. Both shows showcase all of Africa, so Ghana will be featured for roughly 6-10 minutes of the hour.
For Street Foods International, I filmed segments with Auntie Charity (my cooking school teacher), and with my fellow YES Abroad students. It was a blast getting everyone involved, and I look forward to seeing the end result.
I would like to thank Matt of Tremendous Inc!, Patrick, Mike, Carl, Robin, Eunice, Auntie Charity, and everyone else I had the pleasure of working with during my three-day stint as Production Assistant. Our brief time spent filming was the pinnacle of my Ghana experience, and gave me a fantastic means to share everything I learned throughout my year abroad.
And once again, another thank you to the fabulous staff and volunteers of YES Abroad, AFS-USA, AFS-GH, the American-Ghanaian Embassies, Flair Catering, and fellow exchange students to Ghana. I would not have had such a monumental experience without the effort of each and every one of you, and cannot thank you enough.
For everyone new checking out my blog, please feel free to subscribe to future posts using the button on the right sidebar. I will be sending out future Travel Channel updates and news closer to the shows’ release.
While in previous weeks I might take the back seat in cooking classes to Ghanaian helpers, my ability to multitask has noticeably improved. Lately I have been able to take on more meal components and complete them with greater efficiency. I also broke down [half] of a chicken for the first time this week.
Practicals Day 7:
I first tasted pollo in November, and it has since become one of my favorite street foods. My only problem was it being difficult to find – but that’s solved now that I can make it for myself!
I bought the coconuts whole, forgetting to ask the seller to crack them and remove the outer skin. The result was half an hour of work hitting them against the wall and flaking away the meat with a knife the next day. Afterwards, we grated the meat to mix with the pollo dough.
Pollo is thick and dense, but a winner thanks to the heavenly taste of the coconut and vanilla extract. This is one biscuit I’ll absolutely be making in the States.
Red Red (Bean Stew with Fried Plantain)
Despite its deliciousness, bean stew does not photograph well. The flavors that shine are the earthiness of the local black-eyed peas and the smokey flavor of the tuna.
The trick to frying plantains is starting with the oil not being excessively hot. As the plantain cooks, one should gradually raise the heat so that the oil will cook itself out of the plantain. A properly fried plantain is not greasy.
Practicals Day 8:
The fried pollo was lighter and fluffier than the baked version, but far inferior in the taste department. The recipe in my cookbook was not written correctly; the mixture ended up being too wet. This issue was solved by adding more flour, but then the quantities of the other ingredients were screwy.
Groundnut Soup with Omo Tuo
I’m not even going to bother attaching my photos; my groundnut soup and omo tuo (rice balls) were not pleasant on the eyes .
Groundnuts are peanuts; groundnut soup is actually peanut butter soup. While I enjoy the flavor of this soup, I find it to be too heavy for my tastes. I prefer the sauces in Thai curries, where the peanut butter is diluted with coconut milk. Groundnut soup feels thick and dense in my stomach. The soup is flavored with salt, cayenne, stock, and shrimp/herring powder. I personally think that a spoonful of brown sugar would have worked wonders in the soup, but I didn’t have any at the time.
Omo tuo is rice cooked until soft, pounded, and shaped into balls. Unlike last week’s banku, I was able to shape the omo tuo by myself. Obrunis tend to love omo tuo since it is one of the few non-fermented starches around.
Practicals Day 9:
Egg and Koobi Stew
The difference between this stew versus an ‘ordinary’ Ghanaian stew is the added ‘Oomph’ from using extra curry powder. My only complaint was that I didn’t wash the koobi enough. Koobi is tilapia packed with salt and dried in the sun for days; washing it three times wasn’t nearly enough. The high salt levels made the fish nearly inedible. The stew was great though.
Coconut Shortbread Cookies
Excess grated coconut from the pollo was lightly browned in the oven, and the cookies were rolled in it before baking.
These cookies were extremely rich, crumbly, and delicious from the toasted coconut. I ate roughly 1/3 of them, and brought the rest home to my new host family. They were gone by the following morning.
After two weeks of making exclusively Ghanaian foods, I was ready for a break. In week three I learned how to prepare a hodge-podge of breakfast foods, and later catered an Italian feast for the birthday of my AFS friend Bany.
Practicals Day 5:
Pineapple jam was actually very easy to make, and far superior to the one available in the market. All it required was grating pineapple in a pot with water, lemon juice, sugar, and a few cloves.
Nothing else was added. The jam consistency was achieved simply by boiling the fruit for over two hours to eliminate most of the water.
As you can see from the above picture, more than half of the juice was boiled away. No thickeners were added. The jam was very fruity and delicious, but the added sugar was too much since the pineapples were very ripe. Next time I’ll half the sugar, or try making the jam using local honey.
This was the first time I had ever kneaded dough. Some of my classmates were shocked when I said that back home I usually buy pre-made pizza dough at Publix or Whole Foods.
It took me a while to find the rhythm of kneading. While I was doing so, Ghanaians stared at me – shocked at a white man doing such work.
Eggs Six Ways
By my request, I leaned six different ways to prepare eggs. Eggs are something new to my diet since arriving in Ghana, and I actually enjoy them prepared almost every way:
Omelette – My favorite preparation, especially with added onions, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.
Sunny Side Up – Also great, although the texture of the egg white was puzzling at first. It’s amazing how versatile eggs are.
Soft Boiled – My favorite out of the boiled.
Hard Boiled – Not bad, I just find the yolk a bit too dry.
Boiled (in the shell) – At first, I really liked the soft and liquidy texture of the egg seasoned with the black pepper inside. But as I ate more and more, I enjoyed it less and less. After eating roughly half of the egg, I stopped as I was starting to feel nauseous.
Poached – The white was very good, but the yolk felt as though it was still raw. I gagged through one, and gave the second away.
I ate a grand total of eight eggs that day; three for breakfast/lunch, and two to go with my rice for dinner. What can I say; I didn’t want them to go bad! I’m not kidding when I say that my favorite part of culinary school is getting to eat everything I make…
Practicals Day 6
While I’ve made minestroni soup many times before, this was the first time I was given a recipe to follow for it. I chopped potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and spring onions very small, added them at the end of the soup so they would keep their freshness.
The result was nothing spectacular. I preferred to add more vegetables, pasta, and beans to the soup – but I was told to keep it simple. While it got great reviews from my fellow YES students, I felt it tasted like canned soup…
To make these, I started with dinner roll dough and shaped them into knots. After they were halfway baked, I brushed them with a mixture of olive oil, fresh garlic, Italian herbs, and salt.
No telling Mama, but these knots were actually better than hers! The freshly made dough was extraordinarily light and fluffy, while the herbs added another layer of flavor to the garlicyness. I made eight large knots for six people, and they were gone within minutes.
I’m starting to really appreciate spaghetti marinara. It’s simple enough to be made in minutes, yet extremely delicious.
An added bonus is that I can throw in ‘the kitchen sink’ of vegetables and it only enhances the flavor. Today I used fresh zucchini (squash), tomatoes, cabbage, onion, garlic, tomatoes, sweet peppers, cauliflower, and basil I had bought from the market. The vegetables were much-loved by everyone, seeing as how they are notably absent from the standard Ghanaian diet.
My teacher, Auntie Charity, had never tasted spaghetti marinara before. She took a small bite, and her eyes opened wide; I could immediately tell that she loved it. She stifled a cough, and told me to add a little salt to the dish. After following her advice, she asked me to make her a plate so she could further ‘check the seasoning’.
During week two of catering classes, I learned Ghanaian dishes including two classic stews, some amazing deep-fried street food, and a traditional (and very delicious) hibiscus drink.
Practicals Day 3:
Akpiti & Adunlei
Both akpiti (left) and adunlei (right) are made of a deep-fried, unfermented corn flour.
Mama always said that if you deep fried a shoe, it’d taste good. And while I have yet to taste a deep-fried shoe, the theory of anything deep-fried tasting delicious has yet to be proven wrong.
The adunlei was far superior to the akpiti in my eyes. The adunlei’s crust was crispy, while the inside was light and fluffy. This is definitely something I’ll be making back home – when my cholesterol is feeling low.
The egg-like mixture seen in the above stew is actually pounded agushie (melon seeds), fried in palm oil.
Kontomire (taro leaves) remind me of a mild kale.
I also used koobi – a tilapia covered with salt and dried in the sun for days. After boiling and stewing, it was perfectly scrumptious.
Practicals Day 4:
The hibiscus flowers pictured above were boiled for 15 minutes with half of a prekese pod. The deep burgundy colored mixture was then strained and finished by mixing in ginger, sugar syrup, whole dried cloves, and freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice. The flavor was that of a very robust tea – the ginger and cloves were outstanding.
For this stew, okro and garden eggs (similar to eggplants) were sliced and sauteed together.
Crabs, salmon, tuna, and koobi were added along with onions, palm oil, and tomatoes. My teacher told me to make sure to buy the live crabs, since I don’t know when the dead ones had died. The live crabs were placed in a plastic bag and put in my backpack; until I got home, I kept checking to make sure they were still in there.
The dish was served with banku – fermented corn and cassava dough.
Stirring the banku dough while it was on the fire was very difficult – a superhuman feat in my opinion. After I failed miserably, a Ghanaian classmate took over, yielding the following end result.
To be honest, okra stew is not my favorite dish. It’s not the slimy texture that puts me off – I just feel as though it uses too many flavors and fails to mold together into one cohesive dish.
Below are two classmates who helped me on day three of practicals.
My first week of catering school has come and gone. It was a blast; I learned a lot and got the opportunity to meet many Ghanaians with similar interests and values.
One note about my Ghanaian culinary school experience is that there weren’t fundamental lessons to begin. I started in the kitchen, and am learning everything on the spot.
Day One of Practicals:
On the first day, I came to school dressed in jeans and a t-shirt (for lack of a uniform), to meet my Ghanaian class. They had all been cooking together since August, and most were in their 20’s and 30’s. Their uniform consisted of a chef’s jacket, pants, and the ‘signature’ chef hat. I wanted to take a candid photo of them working, but didn’t want to scare everyone away on my first day.
They were preparing a European influenced menu – shrimp cocktails, dinner rolls, spaghetti bolognese, and a pineapple upside-down cake . My mentor was also the one looking after the Ghanaians, so I began by copying recipe handouts.
After copying several European/American recipes such as ‘green salad’, ‘pasta and tuna salad’, and ‘beef olives’, I told my teacher- Auntie Charity- that I wasn’t interested in such recipes. She replaced my previous handout with one full of Ghanaian recipes, and I copied several before leaving to go to the market.
At Circle, I bought white dress shirts ($3 each) before heading to Malata market in New Town. This market is massive, and will be the main source of my raw ingredients. I started navigating by buying an onion. After doing so, I asked where my next ingredient was, and repeated accordingly. After 2.5 hours I held two massive grocery bags, and a checked off shopping list. I paid a girl to carry my bags on her head to the trotro stop, and returned home.
Day Two of Practicals:
I started off by cooking a very simple menu – by my request. Most of the work was done by me, although I did have Auntie Charity and Eddy (another Ghanaian student) helping me at times. That being said, I learned how to do everything myself.
Vegetable Jollof Rice
After prepping all the vegetables, Eddy showed me how to break down a whole chicken into pieces. As soon as the pieces were seasoned, it headed over to the frying pan.
By far the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. The meat was succulent and juicy – but not greasy despite the excess oil from being fried.
After the chicken was finished cooking, we started a basic tomato ‘gravy’ by sauteing onions and garlic in palm oil. After both were caramelized, we added fresh tomatoes followed by canned tomato puree, and spices. After the puree simmered for several minutes, our gravy was finished.
The jollof was finished by cooking rice in the gravy and garnishing with blanched carrots/green beans.
Ofam is a type of spicy plantain bread/cake. It’s made by mashing overripe (black) plantains, and adding flour, ginger, cayenne, and a few other seasonings. I personally prefer banana bread, and thought the ofam was just okay. But the Ghanaians went crazy over it!
While I’ve made many a fruit salad in my time, this one had more of an emphasis on presentation. Each fruit was cut uniformly – the pineapple into widgets, the banana into rings, and the mango and papaya into cubes. I learned how to supreme oranges by cuting out the individual sections so that no skin, pith, or membrane is included.
The melon basket handle was carved by me, whereas the rest was done by Auntie Charity.
About halfway through yesterday’s work, I cut my thumb pretty badly with an archaic potato peeler. Due to me not bringing a pair of gloves, I was sidelined as Eddy/Charity finished preparing my meal.
While I could have certainly made this without assistance and a recipe, it was certainly the best salad I’ve had in Ghana. I whipped up a homemade dijon vinaigrette to accompany it.
Fun Fact: Avocados are called pears in Ghana. The sweet pears are also called pears, but aren’t commonly eaten.
Again – a dish I could easily make at home. But this was the first time in Ghana I’ve eaten potatoes prepared without either being french fries or boiled, and it was delectable. Potatoes are my ultimate comfort food; when I return I’ll likely overdose on them.
Whole Roasted Chicken
The chicken was very simple to make. It was rubbed inside and out with seasoning (fresh garlic and onion, all purpose seasoning, and salt), and filled with homemade stuffing – rice cooked with parsley and other herbs. While I never was a fan of the ‘fresh’ taste of parsley back home, I have to admit that it ‘worked’ in the rice. Trussing the chicken took several minutes, but wasn’t overly difficult. We basted it every 10-15 minutes with a mixture of palm oil, garlic, onion, salt, and cayenne pepper.
The chicken lay on a lettuce bed with sliced onions and tomato flowers. The flowers were unexpectedly easy – all it involved was zigzaging through the middle of the tomato.
My first week was both fantastic and exhausting. It’s not easy working in a room where twenty gas burners are lit at any given moment and there are only two ceiling fans. But it’s worth it – preparing food is a great way to dive into the Ghanaian culture.