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13 Traditional Dishes from Ghana

Learn about Ghanaian cuisine with these common dishes and recipes.

The Ghanaian food tradition is strong and ancient. Ghanaians eat one or two large meals daily, with “small chop” or light snacks, like pieces of seasonal fruit or meat skewers.

Jollof Rice with tomato sauce regional spices chicken meat

Staple foods of this West African country are root vegetables and tubers like yam, cassava, and plantains are used in several applications to provide a majority of the Ghanaian diet. 

Corn and rice appear daily, as well as warm-weather fruits like watermelon, papaya, and mango. Tomatoes, onions, and peppers represent available vegetables.

Fish is the protein of choice, as Ghana rests on the West African coast. As a result, fish soups and stews are common. Palm oil and palm fruits, like coconut, provide oils and fats.

These simple ingredients make a variety of the most popular Ghanaian foods.

Popular Ghanaian Food 

This list will describe the top 13 most popular Ghanaian foods. While some processed versions of these ingredients exist outside of Ghana, you must travel to West Africa to enjoy the real thing.


Fufu and Soup

Fufu and Soup represent a meal eaten usually once each day. Fufu is a paste shaped into a ball and dropped into the center of the liquid.

Fufu, made from root vegetables like cassava and unripe plantains, resembles polenta or grits in Western cuisines.

These solid vegetables need a labor-intensive process to turn cassava and plantains into Fufu. Fufu is also popular in Nigerian cuisine.

The soup part of this meal provides a flavorful counterpart to the heavy Fufu. A light soup of peanuts, chiles, ginger, tomatoes and other available ingredients delivers a delicious balance to this traditional dish.

These soups may appear closer to a thin sauce.


Kokonte

Kokonte is similar to Fufu but is a lower-priced alternative for the same high-calorie meal.

Unlike the white, fresh quality of Fufu, Kokonte is made from dried cassava and appears brown.

Kokonte is made from cassava only, while Fufu may feature plantains, yams, or other root vegetables and tubers.

One significant advantage to Kokonte is its convenience. Kokonte requires less of the laborious pounding technique of fresh Fufu.

Instead, Kokonte requires only hot water to bring the dried cassava to life. Kokonte is usually served with a light soup, like Fufu.


Waakye

Waakye is an authentic Ghanaian entree coming from the Hausa language.

The word Waakye means beans, and this dish is simply rice and beans. However, Waakye transforms into one of Ghana’s favorite foods with its many accompaniments, like:

  • Boiled eggs 
  • Vegetable salads
  • Fried plantains
  • Waakye stew
  • Hot pepper
  • Avocado

Because of the 17th-century trans-Atlantic slave trade, Waakye is now a part of Caribbean and South American cultures.

You will encounter Waakye’s ancestors in Jamaican food and Trinidadian foods, who use kidney beans and coconut milk.

In Guyana, this dish is called “Cook-Up Rice.” Brazil’s version is a cultural staple called “O Arroz Com Feijão,” translated as “The Foundation.”


Banku

Cassava is an essential crop in Ghana and provides the majority of calories consumed throughout Western African countries.

Banku is also a cassava dough product, but this recipe includes corn and a slight fermentation period.

Fresh cassava soaks with corn grains for a day, then becomes a smooth, wet dough. In the heat of Ghana, Banku only needs about two days to ferment.

This dough is then boiled down and kneaded into a firmer product. This dough is then steamed and served with stew.

Banku is especially popular with the Ewe, Fante, and Ga people in the Southern Regions of Ghana.


Jollof Rice

Served for special ceremonies and celebrations, Jollof Rice shows off the best of Ghanaian cuisine.

Beef, chicken, or goat is first steamed with mouthwatering spices like ginger and garlic. Jasmine rice, black pepper, chiles, and tomato paste are added for a hearty, flavorful meal.

Jollof Rice can serve as a side dish with fried fish or a vegetable medley. Shito, a famous Ghanaian condiment made from a sweet, spicy pepper, is often served with Jollof Rice.

Like Waakye, Jollof Rice’s descendants can be found across the Atlantic. If you have ever eaten Jambalaya, you can appreciate the flavors of Jollof Rice.

This dish continues to rise in popularity, inspiring urban food festivals and the celebration of World Jollof Day on August 22. There’s even a dance that honors Jollof Rice!

Jollof rice is served in other parts of Africa as well, including Nigeria.


Tuo Zaafi

The word “Tuo” means stirring or paddling, and the word “Zaafi” means hot.

It’s commonly referred to simply as T.Z. Like Banku, Tuo Zaafi is corn or maize, and cassava dough is served with a soup. Tuo Zaafi diverges from Banku in a few key ways.

First, Tuo Zaafi is cooked and not steamed. Therefore, this dough is less wet and sticky.

Also, this Ghananian classic features signature, rare herbs stirred into the light stew that holds the Tuo Zaafi dough.

Dawadawa is a funky, fermented seed from the African locust tree. Ayoyo leaves, used with Dawadawa in Tuo Zaafi, offer a bitter, medicinal flavor.


Red Red

Red Red comes from black-eyed peas and plantains cooked with red palm oil.

Like many of the most popular Ghanaian foods, Red Red is a simple base with a massive variety of accompaniments.

For a complete meal, try tinned fish, like mackerel, onions, tomatoes, avocados, and rice.

This is another very starchy food in Ghanaian culture. Starches provide an easy-growing and abundant crop that provides an inexpensive food source.

These simple carbohydrates deliver quick energy and help counter hunger pangs in West African diets.

Unripe plantains are used for recipes like Red Red and Fufu. Ripe plantains offer a much different flavor and also come with some superstition.

According to traditional health beliefs, ripe plantains can cause miscarriages and pregnancy complications in women.


Akple with Okra Soup

The Ewe tribe within Ghana counts Akple with Okra Soup as a dish indigenous to its culture.

Akple is another version of white-gray, corn, and cassava dough balls submerged in a soup made from locally-available herbs and vegetables. The preparation for this dish is very similar to Tuo Zaafi.

Okra soup features the distinguishable characteristics of okra. Other ingredients include tomatoes, onions, peppers, wele, or cowhide.

A wide variety of proteins may appear in okra soup, from goat and chicken to herrings, tuna, crab, or salmon. 

This meal may be harder to find in some parts of Ghana. Traditional health beliefs say okra can cause a reduction in sexual stamina in men and general weakness.


Kelewele

We have referenced fried plantains a few times on this list. Red Red frequently appears alongside fried plantains to balance out a complete meal.

The official name for spicy Ghanaian fried plantains is Kelewele. This Ghanaian food item is probably one of the most universal foods on this list.

Street vendors often sell Kelewele as an easy small chop snack. Spices featured in homemade Kelewele recipes include ginger, anise seed, and cayenne pepper.

Try a sweet spin on Kelewele with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove seasonings.


Etor

Like Banku, Etor represents one of the most popular Ghanaian foods from the Ga tribe.

Etor is a mashed yam dish featuring many savory and rich ingredients. This dish appears for celebrations like puberty rites, birthdays, and wedding ceremonies.

Mashed yams join ripped plantains, roasted peanuts, pepper, salted fish, and palm oil to produce this mustard yellow paste.

Etor is commonly served with boiled eggs and roasted peanuts as a garnish.


Plakali

Plakali is another variation on the cassava dough, similar to Fufu and Banku.

However, Plakali is served with only groundnut or palm nut soups. The Ahanta and Nzema tribes of Western Ghana are known for Plakali.

Like many of the most popular Ghanaian foods on this list, versions of Plakali can be found in the places touched by the illegal slave trade.

Southern American countries, like Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru, eat Plakali and Groundnut Soup, as well as a portion of Virginia.


Tubaani

Communities in northern Ghana eat Tubaani as a protein-rich steamed pudding wrapped in katemfe leaves.

These leaves can also serve as a wrap for Red Red and Waakye. This steamed dish comes from the starch of black-eyed peas and water. Pepper and onions provide spice and needed flavor to this starchy side dish.

This striking dish is commonly served for celebrations in northern Ghana. Tubaani serves as a great vegan option, providing a helpful serving of protein.

In Ghana, meals are eaten with the right hand, even steamed puddings like Tubaani. Utensils are not used for eating, and neither is the left hand.

Because the left hand is used only for personal hygiene, eating or offering food with your left hand would be considered impolite.


Kenkey

Countless global cultures enjoy steamed packages of food, from dumplings to tamales and Kenkey.

In Ghana, corn is fermented and boiled to make flexible Kenkey dough. This sourdough is later formed into a bun shape and steamed. Kenkey is served on the side of a stew or fried fish entree.

Variations on Kenkey appear in Togo, Benin, Guyana, Trinidad, and other African countries and across the Atlantic.

In the Caribbean, Kenkey-like dumplings are stuffed with pumpkin, coconut, plantain, and sweet potato.


Popular Ghanaian Food 

  1. Fufu and Soup
  2. Kokonte
  3. Waakye
  4. Banku
  5. Jollof Rice
  6. Tuo Zaafi
  7. Red Red
  8. Akple with Okra Soup
  9. Kelewele
  10. Etor
  11. Plakali
  12. Tubaani
  13. Kenkey

Final Thoughts

West African cuisine, including the most popular Ghanaian foods, feature various starchy foods developed into countless appetizing dishes. Kenkey, Tuo Zaafi, and Fufu provide a staple starch meal used to fill stomachs at a meager cost.

Starches like cassava root, yams, and plantains are plentiful in Ghana and make a satisfying foundation for Ghanaian cuisine.

The most popular Ghanaian foods balance with other flavorful indigenous dishes. A bean paste called Red Red and spicy, fried plantains called Kelewele make a delicious meal or snack for a daily small chop.

Explore the growing African food tradition in a city near you to experience these foods for yourself.

Check out our blog to learn more about food from around the world, like popular Ecuadorian dishes or traditional Indonesian foods.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.