Fufu: Ghana's favorite meal

ACCRA – Although each ethnic group in Ghana has its staple food, "Fufu," which originates from the Akan ethnic group, is fast becoming a dish enjoyed by households across the West African country.

"I am from the Ga-Dangbe [ethnic group] and ordinarily people would say I should eat kenkey [another food staple]," Anny Osabutey, an Accra-based journalist, told The Anadolu Agency.

"But no, I love fufu," he said. "My brother can eat fufu the whole day, even though he is Ga."

Fufu is prepared from cassava. After being peeled, washed, sliced and boiled, the cassava is pounded into powder. Then, with a few drops of water sprinkled on it, the mash becomes sticky.

The well-pounded cassava is then put into bowls and earthenware before being served.

"When I eat fufu, it sustains me for a long time – unlike rice and other dishes," said Osabutey. "It is very nice. I love anything that smells of cassava; that's why I enjoy it so much."

Kofi Twum, a 34-year-old businessman, is also a fufu fan.

"I have been eating fufu all my life and every day; I yearn for it," he told AA while sitting before a bowl of fufu at a street corner eatery in Accra.

"I come here almost every day of the week," said Twum. "Fufu, for me, is the dish of Ghanaian dishes."

Fufu is eaten with the hands; special skill is needed to cut morsels loose from the bowl in which it is served.

"When I was young, I didn't know how to cut the fufu. Sometimes, when I lift my hand, the whole bowl follows my hand," said Kwaku Nkansa, a patron at Bush Canteen in Accra.

Obiri Yeboah, a social scientist, says the word "fufu" comes from the notion of preparing food for the gods in the Akan tradition.

"It also originates from the color, as 'fufu' is the Akan word for 'white'," Yeboah told AA. "Fufu has its origins from Ghana."

He added: "Nigerians also mash fufu, but they don't own the word. Fufu started since the first Akan man started mashing yams for the gods."

A scoop of fufu is sold for two Ghana cedi (roughly $0.60), a sum most people can afford.

Yeboah said Ghanaians generally tended to eat fufu because cassava is cheap and easy to obtain.

Sandra Ayisi Addo, a nutritionist, said fufu was very high in energy and rich in carbohydrates.

"It has a few vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin B," she told AA. "You can also get some Vitamin C and, of course, fiber – so it provides an array of nutrients."  

"It is a healthy meal, but one should be mindful of how much one eats," she cautioned. "If you are a sedentary person, it is not advisable to eat much, so your portions should be regulated."

-Craft-

Making fufu, however, is no easy task.

Workers at Accra's Heavy Do restaurant, a popular fufu joint, begin their daily routine at 3am local time.

There are various teams for the various phases of fufu production, according to supervisor Joyce Biamah, the granddaughter of the restaurant's owner.

One team peels the cassava before washing, slicing and boiling it. Another team – comprising pounders and turners – then takes over the process.

The cook sits by the mortar, a carved wooden compartment that serves as pounding area, and feeds it pieces of cassava.

The cook calculates the thrusts of the long, heavy pestle, which is used to crush the boiled cassava. She occasionally slips her hand in to turn the food, while avoiding the pounding pestle.

"I don't fear for my hands, though I was once hit by a pestle while turning fufu," said Doris Kwakwaa, one of five women in charge of turning fufu at the restaurant.

"For me, it is exciting to be in charge of making fufu for people," she told AA.

"When customers return the next day for more, I'm delighted, because I know I have cooked well," said a smiling Kwakwaa.

Usually, a young man will stand in position and aim the pestle, hewn from trees that are strong but have no bitter taste, into the center of the mortar.

Pounding with full force, the boiled cassava is first crushed into powder, then – with a few drops of water sprinkled on it – the mash turns sticky and clings to the pestle.

Every now and then, the pestle is dipped into a bucket of water to free it from sticky cassava residue.

"It is very hard work, but there are no other jobs. If I don't do this, there is nothing else for me to do," said fufu pounder Francis Agaya.

"My three colleagues and I are paid 100 Ghana cedis [roughly $30] a day," added Agaya, who has pounded fufu for the past four years.

After some 30 minutes of pounding, the cassava is finally transformed into fufu. It is then cut by the cook into earthenware – specially designed clay bowls known as "asanka" – before being served.

-Profitable-

Fufu is eaten with an accompanying soup or sauce that is poured over the bowl.

"We have light soups: groundnut soup and palm nut soup," said the Heavy Do restaurant's Biamah.

"The light soup is prepared with fresh fish, goat meat or beef," she explained. "It is very light and preferred by many fufu eaters because the morsels are easy to swallow."

Others, however, prefer groundnut or palm nut soup.

"We use smoked fish, bush meat, dried fish, fried fish, goat meat and cow meat for the various soups," Biamah said.

Addo, the nutritionist, however, warned consumers to be wary of some of the soups that accompany fufu.

"Fufu is a healthy meal if taken in moderation and if you don't add animal fats – or other fats – to the soup," she explained.

Biamah said fresh supplies of cassava are brought to the restaurant every day.

"I have been preparing and selling fufu here for close to 40 years; it is a very profitable business for me," Biamah's 88-year-old grandmother, Afua, the owner of the restaurant, told AA.

"It was a small business when I started," she recalled. "I used to prepare banku [another local dish made of cassava], but I eventually turned it into an all-fufu restaurant."

Efia Gyan of the Bush Canteen restaurant said restaurateurs tried to make people feel at home when they eat fufu.

"So we deliberately made the environment easy for them," she told AA. "We have stools used in the home, we set tables under the tree, and we serve the fufu in the traditional asanka just to make patrons feel at home."

"I love the smoky smell that the asanka emits when I scoop the fufu out of it," Nkansa, a customer, said as he wolfed down morsel after morsel under a tree.

-Fufu machines-

In recent years, a fufu machine has been introduced on the Ghanaian market.

The machine is meant to ease the toil associated with using mortar and pestle to pound fufu.

Another technology has been introduced whereby cassava and plantain powder are packaged for sale on the market.

The powder only requires one to add hot water in order to make a fufu meal. The new technology, however, has yet to garner widespread approval.

"Of late, people started using the powder and stuff like that. I think this is crap," said Osabutey, a local fufu connoisseur.

"I was living with a Ghanaian family in Switzerland. One day, the wife prepared [powdered] fufu for us," he recalled. "After I ate it, I felt uncomfortable for a whole week."

He added: "I'm a great fan of technology, but I don't think powdered fufu is what we need now."

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