“I’m Done, I’m Done, I’m Done.”

I consider myself a pretty flexible person. Not the “I can put my foot on my head and do a jig” type of flexible but the type you pick up from a lifetime of moving and experiencing new environments and cultures and foods.  I will never forget the toothless neighbor in Missouri who served me my first rabbit and noodle stew (I still have the claw mark in my lip to remind me) or the woman in California that told me, without provocation I can assure you, about her killer marijuana jelly on toast recipe when I was 10. She promised it was the best hangover cure ever, which makes it doubly unnecessary for yours truly.  The road-kill venison in Michigan, the fried Oreos in Texas, and the green Jell-o so prolific in Utah have prepared me for any culinary curiosity that crosses my path, or so I thought.

 I am thoroughly humbled by a Ghanaian dish called Banku. Weighting in at what has to be 20 pounds of pure starch, Banku is one of the staple meals for a culture of hard workers with little time to stop and linger over a meal. Here, eating is out of pure necessity. The starch keeps you going, the fish adds some protein, and the hellish heat burns out the parasites. But it’s not the heat of the soup that makes this dish and its cousins so hard to get down, it’s the fact that you must swallow the little fiery starch balls without chewing. While making a visit to Kpala Island yesterday I was served dinner by our very gracious host, and not wanting to be rude, ate nearly my entire weight in corn starch before I gave up, leaving 1/3 of the corn clump untouched.

You eat Banku (and Fufu , Kenkey and Rice Balls for that matter) with your hands, breaking off little pieces of the pasty corn dough and dipping it in the soup, placing it in your mouth and “swishing” it around to savor the flavor before swallowing. The soups are usually very good in and of themselves, a little spicy of course but the flavors are rich and complex. This time around was okra stew with fall off the bone Tilapia that really was great, minus the banku. Fufu is the same concept but made from kasava and plantains instead of corn. Both foods are made by boiling the starch and then pounding it in a big wooden bowl with a large stick until it forms a dough. To watch the process is rather amazing as it takes the trust and coordination of two people. One pounds while the other turns the dough and adds water until the perfect consistency is reached. Kenkey is just Banku that you wrap in plantain leaves and then in a plastic bag to ferment for a few days making it a little sweet and tangy. Rice Balls are made by cooking plain white rice well past the fluffy stage until it breaks down and starts to clump together. The clumps are then formed into bigger clumps and sort of mashed together into a ball before being tossed into a soup with a little meaty side.

So what do I eat? While I like adventure every once in a while I usually stick with chicken and rice although I have been known to get a little crazy some times and go for fried rice, but only after 5pm and only with friends. And I'm sure you will be happy to know that Pepsi finally has a presence in Ghana, which makes washing down Banku all the more enjoyable/possible.