Abrokyir Nkomo: Stomach Direction
Kejetia Market. Asafo Market. Malata Market. Lomnava. Afrikiko?
Dear Reader, if you live in Ghana and have not yet ventured abroad, you may be forgiven for assuming that the above names refer exclusively to places in Ghana. Indeed they do not, for these are only a few of the names bestowed on the plethora of Ghanaian shops and restaurants dotted all over abrokyir. The purpose of these names is supposedly to make you feel at home once you step onto the premises.
Your average Ghana shop boasts of anything you could find in the real Makola in Accra, minus a few authentic features that cannot be replicated elsewhere-the vibrant mayhem, the screaming, the sweltering heat, the teeming crowds, the kaya-yoo, the drama. There is something slightly amiss, however, when food items like yams, garden eggs and koobi are sold according to weight, and other items are clearly labeled and priced. No argument (nothing like ?Maame, this yam is too expensive. What is your last price? To which she would retort: ?My last is 4,000. My profit is only 200 cedis?. A blatant lie. ) Such a query in a Ghana shop abroad would be met with a cold vacant stare by the seller, and you would be written off as a newly arrived, or else declared mad.
Where in Makola or Kantamanto (I mean the Accra version) will you see a pair of scales for weighing yam or apem? Market goods back home are sold using a very workable, widely accepted formula. The seller quotes a price higher than the actual price, in the knowledge that the seller will ask for a reduction. The buyer, true to type, offers far less than the actual price. The two parties then inch slowly to a compromise, employing various tactics and skills, to arrive at a ?last price?, which leaves them both satisfied. Foreign visitors to Ghana constantly need to be reminded never to pay the asking price, whether it is for yam, wood carvings, or taxi ?dropping?. However, some do get carried away and try to bargain for everything, including Fan Milk, salt and bottled water!!
The African shop abroad, nonetheless, offers an oasis of nostalgia for the motherland when you visit. Familiar items hit you- ?Ghana Sardine? (the Titus brand), ?tinapa?(Geisha) , koobi, zomi palm oil, corn dough, Star beer, Milo, tea bread-you name it, they?ve got it. When you have been feeding on a routine, strange western diet, with plenty of frozen/microwaveable stuff, there comes a time, especially on weekends, when all you crave for is proper apem and kontomire with zomi drizzling all over it, or hot Ga kenkey with shito and fried snappers..
So as a true apostle the gastronomic religion of your motherland, you head for Asafo Market (London/New York/Toronto branch) on a pilgrimage, hoping to get the noses of your white neighbours twitching as the aroma of zomi wafts through the air when you are cooking. Your average Ghana shop not only stocks items for the cooking pot. You can buy a copy of The Chronicle or The Statesman, a few weeks old but rather late than not at all. If you want the latest Lumba release, you are in the right place. Or you can send money home from there. You can also buy international calling cards. Some shops even have a hairweaving department for all the rasta and cornrow addicts. It is on good authority that some shops stock some of the strong stuff (VC 10/Kill Me Quick/ Apio) Indeed, your typical African shop is but a microcosm of a typical ?Papa Gao? shop back home-a true Ghanaian cultural icon.
If you are fairly new in town, you inevitably start converting the prices of these items into cedis, (What? 60p for a ball of kenkey? That is 7,200 cedis!!). But then, man for chop better. If you live away from the major cities, then a trip into town is a good chance to stock up on your delicacies.
On the other hand, if you are severely handicapped in the delicate art of Ghanaian cooking (which, mind you, is not based on scientific measurements and cookbook instructions, but rather years of training and practice), then there is a wide range of Ghanaian restaurants to choose from in order to touch base with Ghanaian cuisine. This is a favourite haunt of the bachelors. Take your pick from red red, tuo zaafi, waakye omo tuo etc. They usually have a drinking bar attached, though it is unlikely you would see a big glistening clay pot full of pito, with flies having a field day buzzing around it. Names like Lomnava, Zongo Junction, Afrikiko and Anokyekrom are common, and the choice of name is to make you feel as if you have just gone back home. Again, dear reader, in spite of the highlife music, African craft and Gulder beer, you still miss a wee bit of the actual home flavour. For one you are confined indoors, and you do not often see the local drunkard causing trouble and making a fool of himself, arguing over how much he owes the seller. Moreover you are not likely to have your ?palms? or pito served in a calabash.
Interestingly, back home ?fast foods? are the craze, even if it is ?fried rice? stored in an ice chest and sold by the wayside. I suppose it is the association of the term with things American. Any boarder in Ghanaian schools will tell you there is no faster food that gari soakings!
Walk down the main street in Osu, from Nando?s through Frankies to Papaye and all the fast food joints, and they are packed. That is where people ?shoot levels?, and guys take their new dates to impress them-cheeseburgers, ice cream, pizzas, grilled chicken, French fries, etc sell fast. If you live in Ghana, then unless you are loaded, you have to avoid these places, because a simple pizza at Frankie?s can go for a cool 50,000 cedis. In any case you will be hungry again an hour after consuming it. If your pocket is dry, your best bet would be to go to the La night market and grab a ball of kenkey with shito and some keta schoolboys, making sure you drink plenty of water to douse the shito-induced inferno raging in your throat and belly.
What is luxury food back home becomes standard, boring stuff in Europe or America whereas over here, akrante is rare, and therefore exotic and expensive. It truly enjoys cult status. Most abrokyir people will confirm that there is nothing more annoying than being in town and feeling hungry. There are no wayside roast plantain sellers, no boiled egg vendors and definitely no meat pie sellers hovering around your car/bus as you are stuck in traffic. It is only back home that a walking snack shop accosts you in the comfort of your car or tro-tro!!
It is amusing, but when you go home on holiday and visit the village, they want to kill the fattest chicken for you as an honour. When you insist on cocoyam fufu with smoked antelope soup, they seem perplexed. If only they knew?