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The Food In My Novels: Part Two

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

In my last post, we saw some Ghanaian dishes that show up in my novels. But wait, there's more! There was too much to include in one post, so this is part two.

By special request, the first dish I want to introduce is the flamboyant "Red Red." This is a vegan-friendly meal made from black-eyed peas and fried ripe plantains, and a huge favorite of Inspector Darko Dawson's.

Red Red: plantains and black-eyed peas cooked in palm oil

Red Red (Photo: Pinterest/Sabre Charitable Trust)

I always thought the name describes the reddish hue of both the plantain and the palm oil in which the beans simmer, but I've also heard that it's due to the addition of red palm oil to red tomatoes and tomato paste. People do add smoked fish or meat, but that's optional. I eat it in its "pure" form--nothing added. This dish is cooked considerably less spicy-hot than say, groundnut stew.

Another vegan-friendly meal is waakye (wah-chih), which is rice and beans (usually black-eyed peas or red beans) cooked along with dried millet stalk leaves, which gives waakye its characteristic pinkish color. If you don't have the millet leaves then you just end up with rice and beans and people will laugh at you.

Plate of waakye: rice and beans with the characteristic pink color from dried millet stalk

Waakye (Photo: Pinterest/

You can eat waakye with any stew on the side. It's invariably served with a delicious hot sauce called Shito, which is made by frying Scotch bonnet peppers with dried fish, prawns, ginger, tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. Some people also add a couple of hard-boiled eggs and spaghetti to waakye. I have no idea how the spaghetti came about, but I can't bring myself to contaminate my waakye with spaghetti.

Another rice meal is Jollof Rice (see Zoe Adjonyoh's recipe here), which originates in Senegal. It's highly popular throughout West Africa, but every country will claim that they make the best version. There's a friendly rivalry over Jollof, most intensely between Ghana and Nigeria. Each one swears their version is better than the other.

Jollof rice in two neat collections with grilled tilapia

Jollof Rice with grilled tilapia (Sura Nualpradid/Shutterstock)

Like most rice meals, you can eat Jollof with practically anything, e.g. it's delicious with grilled tilapia, as shown in the photo. By the way, tilapia in Ghana is traditionally grilled whole and topped with a vegetable mix or sauce and looks nothing like the de-boned and skinned tilapia filets you see in your supermarket. Tilapia in the US is very bland compared to Ghanaian tilapia.

Treats, sweets, and snacks

Some of the best treats are bought on the streets. For travelers, in general, if you buy anything on the street that is served piping hot in front of you, you are probably safe. Nowadays, street vendors wear disposable plastic gloves to serve up your dish. In the old days, they used newspaper to wrap some foods, as it was with fish and chips in Britain long ago, but now they use styrofoam containers, another problem all by itself.

1. Kelewele (kay-lay-way-lay)

Kelewele, chunks of fried plantain, in a fry basket

Kelewele (Photo: menufinderafrica)

Ripe plantains marinated with ginger, salt, and chilis and deep fried till crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Can be eaten alone or with peanuts, or as a side to offset a savory dish with the kelewele's sweetness. For me, kelewele is spoiled by too much chili. Just as with curry, I prefer it mild.

2. Boflot (boh-floht) : Ghanaian donuts

Is there a country where someone hasn't discovered that deep-fried batter is delicious? Such is the case with boflot (or bofrot), made from flour, yeast, sugar, vanilla extract, and nutmeg. You may add egg, butter, and evaporated milk for instant coronary artery occlusion.

Boflot balls made from sweetened fried batter

Boflot/bofrot (Image: e.TV Ghana)

3. Peanut brittle (or "groundnut cake")

Nothing really magical here: just peanuts, castor sugar, and butter. Melt the sugar, add the butter, and then the peanuts. Peanuts in Ghana, called groundnuts, are smaller than what we get in the US, and the taste is more intense. Likewise, Ghanaian peanut butter, or groundnut paste, tastes quite different.

Flat pieces of peanut brittle made with sugar and butter

Peanut brittle (

This is a perennial favorite and a great mid-afternoon snack, appetizer, or finger-food for parties, etc. They can contain beef, chicken, or tuna.

Three meat pies on a plate

Meat pie (Photo: Simple African Meals)

5. Kyinkyinga (chih-cheeng-gah)

This is shish kebab Ghanaian style with chicken, beef, or goat. It's very popular at chop bars (informal, small, eating establishments on the street), restaurants, hotel brunches, and drinking spots. It reportedly goes very well with cold beer. The secret of the unique taste is the kyinga/suya powder, a rub made of a blend of peanuts, salt, ground spices and hot pepper.

Young African man cooking wood skewers of kyinkykyinga, Ghanaian shish kebab

Vendor grilling kyinkyinga over charcoal (Photo: Maarten van der Bent/Wikimedia)


Even though some of these dishes are fondly called street food, just about anything you'll find there also appears in formal restaurants and hotels that offer Ghanaian fare. The difference of course is in the presentation, and of course the price. A lot of restaurants will list the Ghanaian dishes separately on the menu.

That reminds me how I was once at a hotel in Ghana frequented mostly by expatriates and tourists. I remarked to the chef that there wasn't a single Ghanaian dish on the menu, to which he replied, "Well, you know, the guests [read "white"] are not going to like Ghanaian food." Maybe he was speaking from experience, and if so, what a shame. You came all the way to Ghana to eat hamburgers and pizza? You wouldn't try Jollof Rice (which tastes rather like Spanish rice) because it's Ghanaian? You would have no interest in at least tasting groundnut stew? Oh, well, you just missed a gastronomic experience of a lifetime.

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