Ghanaian Local Flavor

Paul Garland

When I went to live and study in Ghana's capital of Accra last summer, I was expecting authentic Ghanaian food. Unfortunately, as in most major cities, what I encountered was a global mishmash of pizza, Indian curry, Asian noodles—there was even a KFC. But I soon found what I was looking for. Following the advice of a professor, I visited Asanka Locals, a barebones counter-service cafe in the city's Osu neighborhood that serves strictly Ghanaian dishes. The lunchtime staple that caught my eye was a spicy, deep scarlet stew made with black-eyed peas, called red-red, named for the hot red pepper and red palm oil that give the dish its vibrant color.

I pointed to the steaming pot behind the counter, and a cook in a hairnet ladled some out, nestled a pile of twice-fried plantains alongside the thick stew, and handed me the plate.

Taking a cue from the midday crowd, I smashed a plantain slice between my thumb and index finger to form a spoon, then scooped the stew into my mouth. Sitting there, I thought about how many dishes of the American South, where I grew up, were brought there by Africans from this region during the slave trade; how similar this dish was to the black-eyed peas my mother made for me in our Tennessee kitchen—and how strange it was to be eating something so familiar so far away from home.