Food shock

Burgers, chips and Bombe Alaska at the Rexmer Hotel in Kumasi.

AM, Owure and 50 Cedis enjoy burgers, chips and Bombe Alaska (!) at the Rexmer Hotel in Kumasi.

It’s school holidays and AM is eating my money. Movies, gaming cafes, junk food, pearl milk tea. Perhaps I should just not give him any money other than pocket money, but I’d rather he went out and had fun than moped around all day in front of the computer. Whatever, he’s going to have to get a job soon, I can’t afford him.

A few days ago he went out with a friend who’s just come back from a trip to grandparents in Ireland and Germany, who was complaining about how much he’d had to eat at his German Grandma’s table. It prompted AM to commiserate and recount his own overseas food trauma. He blamed his tendency to over-eat on our trip to Ghana. Personally, I just think it’s because he’s a child of extremes in everything, but his analysis is that he missed Aussie food so much  that now he’s got unlimited access to it, he’s so relieved that he can’t stop when he should. 

AM told his friend how in Ghana he’d had nothing to eat for weeks on end but rice with a bit of chilli and tomato stew. He missed out on the part of that story where he’d refused point-blank to eat anything else for the last couple of months of our stay. (Unless we went to a ‘European’ hotel , when he’d plow through burgers, chips, steak and pasta). Peanut soup, fried chicken, fresh fish stew with palm oil, all these and more were on offer, but no … now that’s what I call cutting off your nose to spite your face.

However, although it was frustrating to watch, I do understand how he was feeling. (He probably doesn’t think so). I remember feeling the same way at school camp, where at a similar age to him I ate nothing but peanut butter sandwiches for a week and then totally binged when I got home. I also went through much the same experience on my first trip to Ghana. I was only there for four weeks but it was probably only a matter of days before I was craving a simple ham sandwich or a salad – anything but spicy, oily, weird Ghanaian food! At that time (early 90s), it was impossible to find either ham or salad, at least in Kumasi, and I suspect it would still be difficult to find what I think of as good ham, although I hear you can get a decent salad in Accra these days. My saviour was the Chinese restaurant in Kumasi (tender beef! broccoli!), but it was expensive and I couldn’t eat there much.

I tried making my own salad, but it was a dismal, almost inedible disappointment. The lettuce,  carrot and capsicum were bitter and the cucumber turned out to be zucchini (yuk). The tomato was ok but the dressing was awful.

After that, I gave up on substitutes for ‘European’ food and I have never, since, sought it out in Ghana. It’s never teh same as what you’ve grown up on. I’m sure that’s the expereince of expatriates everywhere. My approach these days is to appreciate what’s available rather than mourn for what’s not. However on that first trip it was awful because I got to a point where I just didn’t want to eat anything at all. It was unfamiliar, it was too hot and too heavy, and to make things worse I had a bad stomach bug. I guess that’s the same place AM was in, but for longer than I had to endure it, poor kid. I hope it hasn’t totally put him off.

The next time I went to Ghana I was lucky enough to be staying with my sister-in-law Serwaa, who is a very good cook. Between us, we soon figured out my favourite Ghanaian foods and I survived more than a month in the village, with absolutely no access to any foreign foods (except tinned milk, blech). I still lost weight, due to more or less chronic diarrhoea, but on the whole I was well fed and satisfied. And on our recent trip, I mostly had a wonderful time eating. I just avoided offal and it was all good. So I guess, even tho it had been ten years since the last visit, I’d acclimatised. Just hope AM gets to do the same.

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