Finding Fufu

Eating while traveling has always been my favorite way to experience new places. Prior to our trip, I had almost no experience with Ghanaian food. I knew from our pre-trip packet, to expect rich spicy sauces paired with starchy staples.

Throughout our week in Ghana, I tried many new foods, such as:

  • kenkey – fermented maize dough balls
  • groundnut soup – a light soup often served with fufu
  • jollof rice – spiced tomato rice
  • palaver sauce – an amazing stew of greens, spices and ground melon seeds
  • red red – beans and meat cooked with rich red palm oil, served with plantains

And, many more!

One food memory that has lingered was the experience in Adidome, helping our hosts pound cassava into fufu. Fufu was the one food that our experienced West African travelers had described to us about with knowing smiles and a gentle warning: “it may not be for everyone”. Cassava (and sometimes other starches) is boiled, then pounded until it forms a glutinous dough. Diners are to form little balls of fufu to dip into soup or sauce. The texture of fufu is its most defining characteristic – it is a little chewy, like raw bread dough without grainy taste of raw flour. It soaks up the flavor of whatever you dip it into, and does not have an overpowering flavor of its own.
While I admit that it was not my favorite new food, I very much enjoyed learning about the process of making it. Fufu is not an easy dish – it takes significant elbow grease (and a fair amount of muscles) to turn stringy, fibrous cassava into a smooth paste. First, our hosts demonstrated – managing the mound of mush with one hand, and wielding the pounding stick with the other, our hosts turned the fufu over and over hundreds of times to create a smooth, uniform dough. Working with one arm in a rhythmic, rote motion, the process looked almost effortless. We were quickly disabused of this notion – as each of us tried our hand wielding the pounding stick, we quickly learned just how much work goes into this national dish.
The challenge of making fufu (I think I lasted less than two minutes) reminded me of one of the things I love most about learning about new foods. Many of my favorite dishes are those that developed by the ingenuity and hard work of people determined to turn simple, humble ingredients into something delicious. The example from my own culture are the dumplings of northern China. I’ve often waxed poetic about the alchemy of using flour, water and effort to stretch scarce ingredients (such as meat) into a satisfying meal. Watching our hosts prepare and serve fufu reminded me of how important food is to people, culture and history.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *