Itâ€™s the 6th of March (at least for another hour or so), and Iâ€™d like to propose a toast.
To a place with waterfalls and highlife music, cities and tiny villages. To a place that, one day at the stroke of midnight soon after independence from British rule, started driving on the right side of the road instead of the left. To a place where mixed drinks are unheard of at most spots (neighborhood bars), so a gin and tonic consists of a shot of gin with a glass bottle of tonic water made the old fashioned wayâ€”with malaria-fighting quinine.
Since Iâ€™ve already moved onto food, hereâ€™s to a place that pounds cassava and plantain mercilessly to make fufu, offers a spectrum of fermented cornmeal treats and okra stew that stretches for a full meter without breaking its mucusy strings. To a place where chop bar customers pay for food by the ladleful and eat side-by-side without any silverware to get in the way of eating. It has oranges that are skinned down to the pith for three American cents and eaten in a way that would make California navels cringe. To the home of rice balls, peanut soup, teeny bananas, giant avocadosâ€¦.
Yes! If you hadnâ€™t guessed yet, itâ€™s Ghana. And I sorely miss the food.
Iâ€™m sure a great deal has changed since my stay of a few months back in 2001, but Iâ€™m guessing the orange sellers still glide by packed buses, fruit balanced skillfully on their heads. Iâ€™ll bet Taco Bell, our favorite University of Ghana hangout spot (which sold nothing resembling a taco or anything remotely Mexican) is still around.
So because of that, I give a handshake (with a thumb snap) to the country on this, its 50th anniversary of independence.
And, of course, Iâ€™ll give you a recipe â€“ without quantities, â€˜cause quantities are so Western Hemisphere.
Ghanaian Pepe (hot sauce)
Jamaican peppers (they look like habaÃ±eros, but are much milder), stems removed
Onion, peeled and cut in wedges
Fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks
Put this all, in the ratios that seem right, into a blender or food processor and puree. Leave a little chunky, if desired. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. (It will keep for quite a while because between the onion, garlic, and ginger, bacteria hardly stands a chance).
Eat with kenke or banku, or, if youâ€™re not into fermented corn products, put it on/in anything that needs a little pep.