Drinking in Ghana

As I’m halfway through my series on Ghana street food, I thought it was time I stopped for a drink. Or several. After all, it is very hot in Ghana.

I’ll start with a cup of Milo, which you can buy with your street food breakfast of bread and omelette any day of the week. It’s also timely to celebrate Milo because of course it is made from cocoa – one of Ghana’s major exports – and we’ve only just passed Fair Trade Fortnight in mid-May. It’s one of several chocolate milky drinks that Ghanaians enjoy, but it seems to be the favourite.

Here, for your delectation, are fermented cocoa beans spread out to dry in DadaK’s home village:

cocoa beans

Most of our family in Ghana are – or have been – cocoa farmers. If you like dark chocolate you would love these beans. Chew on 3 or 4 and you get quite a buzz.

Another popular drink in Ghana is Malt. I have yet to meet a Ghanaian who doesn’t like this non-alcoholic version of Guinness. As you can see, it really gets people quite excited.

Ad for Malta - people jumping for joy: 'Alive with natural goodness'

Like so many ads for sugary beverages in Ghana, this one seems to be making the claim that Malta is actually good for you. I was puzzled by this until someone explained that it’s a strategy to make soft drinks more attractive than alcohol. Well that’s a theory.

And here is the inspiration for Malt:

Ad for Guinness: Rich, dark, extremely satisfying.

Is it just me or is this ad full of innuendo? OK, it’s just me. I’ve worked in sexual health for tooooo long.

Club beer bottles and glasses

Even non-Guinness beer is Irish … can someone please explain to me what the Irish connection is?


Perhaps I should have gone into this Accra pub to find out. But I’m not really into pubs. And I’m really not into Guinness. Or beer.

Ad for Coke featuring attractive young woman.

I’m also not into Coke, but I liked this ad – well, I liked the Kente bodice the model is wearing, and was interested to see how Coke has ‘africanised’ their ads for the local market.

Most times I took the kids to the local internet cafe we would buy soft drinks at one of the local stores: returnable 300 ml glass bottles of Mirinda lemon or orange. Actually, I say ‘returnable’ … you weren’t allowed to leave the shop with them. But anyway, if they can do returnables in Ghana I really don’t see why container deposit legislation is so out of reach in Australia.

Another refreshing non-alcoholic drink is ginger beer. On my very first trip to Ghana, back in the early 90’s, I was hanging around on the docks at Tema waiting for DadaK to negotiate the bribes needed to obtain a box of stuff he’d freighted to himself from Australia – as you do – when a ginger beer seller came past.

She poured this very gingery beverage straight from bucket to cup, which DadaK thought was a bit unhygienic and assured me was being phased out. It was; I’ve never seen any beverage sold from a bucket since then. These days you buy ginger beer in plastic bags: bite the corner off and suck. (I’m assuming that hasn’t changed since 2008 when we were last there.)

You can check out how to make ginger beer on this video from SBS (unfortunately I can’t embed it).

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning iced kenkey – also sold in plastic bags. This is basically Kenkey (fermented cornmeal dumplings) mashed into a liquid with milk and sugar. You can find out how to make it in this rather long but often hilarious video. I think Ghanaians’ love of iced kenkey rivals their love of malt.

PS: You can make it in a blender.

PPS: I don’t believe it’s alcoholic.

PPPS: It won’t cure AIDS.

PPPPS 12 June 2016: Sorry, that video is no longer available 😦 But When I went looking for it, I found a street dancer called Ice Kenkey, which made me smile:

Another typically Ghanaian beverage, palm wine, is alcoholic – although not when fresh from the palm. At least I hope not, because AM was very fond of it when he was four. He still remembered it when we went back ten years later, and still liked it just as much. I can’t compare it to anything I’ve tasted anywhere else. It’s a little bit sweet. And it fizzes.

My first ever taste of palm wine. I like this pic because she's pouring from an earthenware pot. Like the bucket for ginger beer, you don't see this anymore, just plastic containers.

My first ever taste of palm wine. I like this pic because she’s pouring from an earthenware pot. Like the bucket for ginger beer, you don’t see this anymore, just plastic containers. I think people still drink it from a calabash though, at least in the villages.

Akpeteshie, on the other hand, is most definitely alcoholic. Also known as the local gin, it’s distilled palm wine and according to Wikipedia, around 40-50% proof.

My main experience of akpeteshie – apart from spitting it out – is my brother’s enjoyment of it when he went to Ghana in ’97. My brother-in-law would take him visiting and he would come home drunk most days. Which is saying something, because he had a pretty good head for alcohol.

Having discovered What is right with akpeteshie? I now have some idea of what he was going through. As well as interesting historical background.

Akpeteshie still

An Akpeteshie still somewhere in the forest surrounding DadaK’s village.

And finally … after all those sweet, hot, sour, strong flavoured, alcoholic [or not] Ghana drinks, what better to refresh the palate than my all-time favourite, water?

Life-saving and cooling, sold in the ubiquitous plastic bags by young women who cluster at bus junctions and run after your trotro calling ‘Nsuooo‘ or ‘iced water’,how would I ever have survived in the Ghana heat without it?

At about the two minute mark on Afro Moses’ video you can hear the water seller’s voice. Piercing, because this is an essential service.

Even AM’s Aunty Serwaa was in on the market, selling tap water filtered through a piece of foam. That was the cheap version, not properly filtered. We weren’t allowed to drink it.

2 thoughts on “Drinking in Ghana

  1. I’m a student doing somee research and I just fell on your article. You really had me hooked till the end…… Sad part is I am supposed to be researching right now and not commenting on your post. Aw man Uni is hard. And oh I loved your article

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