Top 25 Most Popular Foods in Ghana: from the Gulf to the North
Ghana, though a relatively small country with a population of around 30 million, was at the forefront of the struggle for independence from colonialism and the first sub-Saharan country to achieve it. Not only is it famous for great leaders like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, but its cuisine is also undoubtedly one of the best in West Africa.
It has made a name for itself in the culinary arts of the sub-region and is famous throughout the continent for its spicy soups, corn-based and cassava-based foods.
Ghana’s food is as diverse as its people, with every ethnic group having a special dish of their own. From the coastal towns to the savannah regions, one can count about a thousand and one different foods littered across the tropical country. However, some foods are known for their delectability and are common with almost all Ghanaians.
We bring you 25 of the most popular foods in Ghana, but before we begin, here’s a short guide to help you understand the food culture in The Star of Africa (one of Ghana’s numerous nicknames).
Ghanaians divide their foods into breakfast, lunch, and supper – just like Europeans. Though there’s a clear distinction between what food can be taken for breakfast, lunch and supper don’t have that. So, what can be taken as lunch can equally be taken as supper and vice versa. Rarely do you have Ghanaians take foods meant for breakfast as supper or lunch, but it does happen.
Most Popular Soups in Ghana
Most foods in Ghana are taken with soups or stew. So, here is a list of the major soups that are loved by all and sundry from the gulf to the north.
Peanut/groundnut butter soup is made from, you guessed right, peanut butter. The creamy soup is made by mixing the peanut butter with water and stirred till the oil in the peanut butter rises to the top. It is later added to a mixture of boiled and blended tomatoes, pepper, onions, ginger, and garlic and cooked to give it its unique taste. You can add any meat or seafood of your choice.
Light Soup (Tomato Soup)
Locally referred to as light soup because of its lightness/thinness as compared to the peanut butter soup, it is very easy to prepare and very spicy. Just boil pepper, tomatoes, and garden eggs together, then blend them. Sieve the chaff and add some blended onions, garlic, and ginger. The meat is steamed separately with spices to ensure it is soft and delectable before adding it to the soup for its special aroma and flavor.
The name of the soup is derived from the major ingredient which is okra. There are two variations to this soup – dry okra soup and fresh okra soup depending on the location. The southerners grow fresh okra so they use the fresh okra while the Northerners, due to their dry weather, grow dry okra. It is eaten along with several foods as we will soon discover.
Having gone through the major soups that are popular in Ghana let’s dive into the world of Ghanaian cuisine.
Numerous Ghanaian foods don’t have English names or their equivalents, neither do they have American or European ‘counterparts’ (Yes, they are that unique). Therefore, I’ll do my best to explain them.
Most Ghanaians prefer to take breakfast depending on their jobs and status in society. Those who work white-collar jobs will prefer light foods like tea, chocolate drink, or porridge accompanied with bread or biscuits. However, those whose work requires manual labor prefer to take what they term “heavy food” like plain rice or beans with sauce or stew.
1. Koko with Koose/Bread (Corn Meal Porridge and Bean Cake/Bread)
This food, though can be taken at any time of the day, is mostly eaten as breakfast. It is a common sight to see lots of buyers line up in a queue just to purchase this delicacy – queuing for food is very common in most African cities. The food is prepared from corn dough which has been left to ferment for a few days (3 days approximately) to make it tastier. Unfermented corn dough normally leaves a biting and sour taste in the mouth. The cornmeal porridge is normally accompanied by bean cakes or bread.
2. Hominy Corn Porridge
This widely popular breakfast is akin to European hominy grits. It is made from hominy corn, and that’s all you need to make this hearty breakfast. It is boiled in water for a few hours to soften the corn and then your meal is ready. It is a very delicious breakfast loved by both parents and children alike because of its nutritional quality. Raw hominy corn porridge has a tangy taste, therefore, sugar and milk are added to sweeten it and make it more palatable.
3. Rice Water Porridge
Another plain but nutritious breakfast is the rice water porridge. Very popular in the Southern and Middle belts of Ghana, this simple but delightful breakfast only requires three ingredients – water, salt, and rice. Most people usually add sugar and milk to sweeten it, but unlike the hominy corn porridge, it can be taken raw as well
Lunch and dinner are the most important meals to a Ghanaian. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no difference between food prepared for lunch and food prepared for dinner; they are interchangeable.
4. Banku with Soup and Seafood
Banku is a combination of fermented corn dough with cassava dough which is mixed and stirred in hot water till it becomes solid. It is a very common dish in the Southern, Eastern, and Western parts of Ghana. Banku is eaten along with different kinds of soups, stews, and sauces – from peanut-butter soup to pounded palm nut soup. However, the most popular soup that resonates well with banku is okra stew or soup. Cowskin, locally called ‘wele’, is added along with any seafood of your choice.
5. Fufu and Soup
This is a popular dish across the country and its neighbors. It is called foufou or foutou in the Francophone countries while the English-speaking countries, like Nigeria, call it fufu. Prepared from a combination of boiled tropical cassava and plantain or yam which is pounded to a pulp, it is eaten with mainly light soup. Fufu can also be eaten with peanut butter soup, pounded-palm nut soup, and vegetable soup made from either spinach or cocoyam leaves. The most delicious fufu with soup dish features snails, mushrooms, and fish.
6. Waakye (Rice and Beans with Millet Leaves)
This is one of the most cherished dishes in most households in Ghana. As the name suggests, the main ingredients in this dish are rice and beans which are both boiled in water with millet leaves till they become soft. The delicacy is named after the millet leaves which are locally referred to as waakye. It is normally accompanied by yellowish granulated cassava, tomato sauce, and a hot black pepper sauce referred to as ‘shito’. Waakye is eaten with mostly cow meat and eggs, but others also add chicken or guinea fowl.
7. Rice Balls (Omotuo) with Peanut-Butter Soup
The Southerners love this dish so much that they have dedicated a special day for the eating of this food – Sunday afternoons. Some local restaurants, popularly known as ‘Chop Bars,’ only serve this food on Sundays. Omotuo is made from boiled rice which is stirred into small balls, thus the name rice balls. When stirred properly, the balls become soft and smooth, making it easy to gulp down with peanut butter soup. To top it all off, this food is served with a variety of offals.
8. Etor (Mashed Yam with Eggs)
Mashed yam with eggs is widely referred to as food for the gods due to its use for religious purposes. However, outside of religion, it can be eaten as and when you choose to. It is very tasty and easy to prepare – maybe that’s why the gods love it. Just boil yam till it’s soft and mash it. Add hot palm oil to it and some boiled eggs, and you are good to god. The food for the gods can equally be enjoyed by the mortals.
9. Yam Pottage
Like many other staple foods in Ghana, yam can be used to prepare a variety of meals, and this includes yam pottage. Yam pottage is yam infused with tomato soup and flavored with dry sardines and garlic to make it tastier. Since there are various varieties of yam pottage (sometimes called yam porridge), you are at liberty to cook it the way you want. Others choose to use palm oil instead of tomato soup. Dried sardines and salted dry tilapia are added to give it an inviting and mouthwatering aroma.
10. Tuo Zaafi
Tou Zaafi, widely known as TZ is very common to the people of Northern Ghana, especially the Dagombas. Prepared from dry cornflour, it requires a bit of skill to prepare. It is very soft and easy to swallow. Like the banku and fufu mentioned earlier, it requires some soup to gulp it down. The most popular soup that comes with TZ is jute leaf soup known as ‘ayoyo’ in the local parlance. Depending on your preference, you can add tomato stew to give a different flavor or just maintain the jute leaves.
11. Tubaani (Bean Pudding)
Just like TZ, Tubaani resonates well with the people of Northern Ghana, and those who reside in the Zongo communities of the south. It has a very distinct and pleasant aroma which draws lots of patrons once it’s ready. Made from ground black-eyed peas or beans, it is mixed with water and stirred into a pudding. Then it is steamed over boiling water and served with fried onions and pepper.
12. Wasawasa (Yam Flour Meal)
This is one of the most respected foods in the North. Legend has it that the food will turn out sour and tasteless if your immediate surroundings are filthy. Therefore, people take the pains to clean out the entire surroundings before preparing the meal to prevent a tasteless meal. It is prepared from ground yam fluor which eventually becomes either dark brown or black tiny balls during the process of cooking. It has a very sweet taste and is loved by all especially royalty. Wasawasa is eaten along with hot black pepper and stew garnished with sliced onions and tomatoes.
13. Plantain and Kontomire Stew (Plantain and Cocoyam Leave Stew)
Like many Ghanaian foods, plantain and cocoyam leaves are eaten fresh from the farm, since cooking with stale cocoyam leaves and plantain makes the food unappealing and less tasty. The sight of and smell of fresh cocoyam leaves and plantain leaves your mouth watering. The dish is simple and can be done in less than an hour.
The plantain is peeled and boiled while the cocoyam leaves are cut, boiled, and then ground in a locally made bowl called ‘apotoyiwa’ or earthenware bowl. Hot palm oil is added to the leaves with salted tilapia and boiled eggs. The fried oil and salted fish give a very strong and pleasant aroma that attracts flies so it’s advisable to eat this delicacy indoors to prevent unwanted visitors.
14. Fried Yam Chips and Octopus/Fish
Though it is comparable to KFC’s chicken and chips, it is quite different because the local sellers make sure they fry the yam till it becomes crisp. It is eaten along with tomato gravy or the famous black pepper sauce, ‘shito’. For your protein needs, all sorts of fried fish and poultry can be added, depending on your location. Those who live close to the sea normally add fried octopus or fish while those who live inland will make do with fried chicken or cow meat. Fried yam and chips can be found in all the major towns in Ghana including the tourist attraction centers. It is cheap, easy to prepare, and portable.
I could write a whole book about this West African dish. Its origin has always generated a hot debate between the West African nations Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana, with all of them claiming ‘ownership’ of the famed rice dish. The sweet meal is made by boiling rice in an already prepared tomato stew till the rice cooks. Its preparation is simple and should be ready in an hour. It is accompanied by chicken, goat, or cow meat and salad as a side dish.
16. Akple with Okra Soup
Akple is very common to the people of the Volta Region of Ghana. It is very similar to banku, they even have similar ingredients. However, the major difference between banku and akple is that, whilst banku uses corn dough, Akple uses cornflour. Those from the southern part of the Volta Region prefer to eat their Akple with okra soup and crabs whilst their northern counterparts love to eat akple with pepper sauce and anchovies.
If there’s any delicacy that is popular throughout all of Ghana, then it is this meal. Almost every tribe prepares this meal because cassava, its main ingredient, grows in almost all the regions in Ghana. It is made from cassava and has several funny nicknames which include “face the wall”, “black gold”, “agyenkwa” (savior), and “lapiwa”. Kokonte is normally taken with peanut butter soup – they make a perfect match. However, it is also eaten with other soups like palm kernel and okra soups with assorted fish or meat. Others also prefer to go with pepper sauce and anchovies.
18. Angwamu (Oil Rice) Baby Rice
The Ghanaian oil rice, called Angwamu in the South and baby rice in the North, is amongst the simplest dishes to prepare. All you need is water, vegetable oil, salt, and onions and within thirty minutes your food is ready. It is enjoyed by people of all ages but is highly recommended for babies that is why it is called baby rice. The delicious food is eaten with pepper sauce and fried eggs or sardines and has a delectable taste that leaves you yearning for more.
Kenkey is another delicacy that is common to Ghanaians. It is one of the foods that unite Ghanaians because it is virtually everywhere. Locally, it is either referred to as komi or dorkunu. The dish is boiled corn dough in dry corn husks. It is a very tedious meal to prepare, thus, it is not a meal to prepare when you are tired or hungry. Most households do not prepare it because of the time and energy it consumes, rather they prefer to buy it from food vendors. It is mainly eaten with pepper sauce and hot black pepper sauce (shito) and fried fish.
Most Popular Snacks
Snacks are very common in the West African country. They are mostly sold along the streets and one can grab them for less than a dollar. Let’s take a quick look at some of them.
20. Plantain Chips
This is a very common snack that is loved by all and sundry. It comes in two flavors riped and the unripe plantain. Both are very tasty but many of the citizens prefer the ripe plantain chips to the unripe ones due to their sugary taste. Plantain chips are prepared in a similar way to french fries. The plantain is peeled and sliced into flat chips, salted, and fried till they are crisp. You can get them for less than a dollar and are very sweet and crunchy.
21. Bofrot (Fried Doughnuts)
Ghana has its version of doughnuts which is referred to as ‘bofrot’. It is a very common snack which is sold along with Koko (corn dough porridge). It is mostly eaten as breakfast, though a few people prefer to eat it as a snack. Its preparation is quite tedious and if care is not taken it might burn. It is prepared by mixing flour, eggs, vegetable oil, and dry yeast. It is then deep-fried till it turns golden brown, ready for consumption.
Since Ghana grows varieties of beans and cowpeas, it has several foods that are made using them as chief ingredients. A prime example is bean cakes. These cakes are eaten with porridge made from corn dough or millet. They are very popular in the northern parts but can be found in the major cities in Ghana. When fried properly, bean cakes have a crunchy outer layer and a soft core. Some people add pepper to make it a bit spicy and to enhance the taste, otherwise, they taste just fine without pepper.
23. Agbeli Kaklo
‘Agbeli’ is an Ewe word for cassava, the kaklo doesn’t have an English word, and since it is indigenous to Ghana, there is no foreign equivalent. It is made from grated cassava which is salted and fried. This sweet snack is eaten with hard coconut. It is crisp and crunchy with a slightly tough outer layer but is soft inside. Though Agbeli Kaklo originated among the Ewe tribe, it was very popular on the streets of the capital city, Accra.
24. Nkatie Cake (Peanut Cake)
Nkatie, a twi word for peanut, is made into a candy bar by grinding and mixing it with melted sugar. It is a very popular snack among school children because of its sweetness. Nkatie cake has transcended all regional and national borders with Guinea and Senegal picking up the delicious snack.
Gari soaking is the Ghanaian version of corn flakes. It is a very simple food which can be eaten as lunch or snacks. The name gari soaking says it all. It is soaked gari (granulated cassava) soaked in water and eaten with peanuts and sugar. Other versions of this meal have salt in addition to the ingredients mentioned above. It is very delicious and the cheapest meal on this list. Thus, it is very common throughout the country. Students, especially, boarders, love this meal and have coined several names for it. Some call it The Student’s Companion while others call it The Life Saver, among a host of other names.
Ghanaian food is as unique as its people. Ghana has been named the Gateway to Africa because of its hospitable citizens. It is home to a diverse array of cultures and has some interesting and exciting traditions. Its tourist sites attract over a million tourists a year. It recently hosted an event dubbed the Year of Return which was championed by the President of the republic. The Year of Return saw lots of tourists flood the nation and bask in the glory of its warm sun. Though it is a small country, its heart is big to accommodate everyone.