Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Surviving as a veggo in Ghana….

with 3 comments

The following article was something put together for the VSO Volunteer Newsletter in Ghana.  We thought our blog readers might also be interested:

A veritable Feast at the Shox's

I thought I would write a little bit about my experience as a vegetarian here in Ghana.  Mostly because I love food.  I mean…. Seriously.  I LOVE food.  It is my life!  And eating well (and eating healthily) has taken on an even more important part of my life here.  My partner Mark and I are volunteering in the Northern Region, based in Tamale.  So far, we have been here six months (out of our planned two year placement).  Even in this short space of time, I must say I have found that

a) the availability of fruit and veg to be better than I had anticipated and

b) other items crucial to life as a vegetarian to be available (albeit sometimes intermittently, or else needing to be purchased from elsewhere, and “stockpiled”).

One of the first things I noticed after a few months, was that we had both developed rather serious anemia.  This is a relatively easy problem to cure, as iron tabs are readily available at a chemist.  I might also say that we are, strictly speaking, NOT vegetarians, but rather “fishatarians”  (meaning we will eat fish, but in Ghana, we limit this to canned tuna and canned mackerel in the ubiquitous tomato sauce).

As I’m sure we all know – Ghanaians love their meat!  and it does, unfortunately, form the backbone (as it were) of most of the staples at a chop bar.  So it has been tough for us to find a very diverse range of foodstuffs to eat when we are not at home.  However, there ARE some fabulous things out there, once you know about them!  One recent discovery has been the sellers of “tofu kebabs” (although strictly speaking, this soya based kebab is more akin to tempeh).  Delicious.  Highly recommended.  10 Pesawa for a stick with four soya chunks and corresponding pieces of chargrilled onion.  Yum.

In the kitchen itself, one of the biggest successes has been utilizing a wide range of spices in cooking.  The selection of ingredients here is certainly more limited than what I am used to in Australia, but the careful use of spices keeps things interesting and varied.  My favorite spice staples are cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, turmeric, oregano and basil.  If you add the always available onions, garlic, ginger, chilies plus good old S&P, you are pretty well able to cater for a variety of tastes!

Trying to get enough protein in the diet is often a challenge.  With more time on my hands here than in my previous life in Perth, I have enjoyed the fruits of my labour in making my own tofu.  The humble soya bean is widely available, and one “batch” of the tofu recipe can provide three great dishes:  soya milk, soya burgers, and of course – tofu!   (feel free to contact me if you are interested in the recipe – originally provided to me – with training!  – by Volunteer Extraordinaire Shirley Somono.  Thank you Shirley!  You are a gem).

Another good protein source is of course, any of the legume family.  My favorites are chick peas and moong dal.  Both are *sometimes* available here in Tamale, so I always make it a point to stock up when there ARE some legumes available.  They store well, keep a long time, and a little goes a long way.  It is wonderful to enjoy again – three great dishes from one soaking of a cup or so of chick peas:  chicks peas themselves (usually for a stew), hommus, and I use the rich flavoured stock in a subsequent soup dish.  I usually save the stock in a plastic container and freeze it for a separate soup making occasion.  It really makes a difference!

I know some of the more remote regions of Ghana have a more limited availability of fruit/veg/dry goods.  We feel lucky to be based in Tamale – the “big smoke” of the North.  We also occasionally get things brought up from Accra, where virtually EVERYTHING can be purchased.

Shirley Athena and Mark enjoy a vegetarian feast

So we are enjoying the challenges of keeping the menu varied, staying healthy, and having our cooking enjoyed by the fellow volunteers who (upon the occasion) come to stay with us!  Bon appétit, everyone!

As an addendum to this note:  a wee story of interesting “supply/demand” dynamics:

We regularly have ladies stop by the office selling various things; ranging from perfume, bananas and peanuts to condoms.  Anyhow, last week an “elderly” lady had a box on her head; when I inquired what she was selling she advised “spring rolls”.  I asked “do they have meat in them?” and she replied in the affirmative.  I said, “oh, I’m sorry – we don’t take meat”.   Anyhow, she duly stored this information…..

This week, we were at our favorite lunch spot, when she walked by with her spring rolls precariously balanced on her noggin again.  I asked her if they had meat, and she said “No, they are vegetarian.  After I spoke with you last week, I decided to try them without meat.  At first, I thought my customers would complain, but so far, everyone is happy with them!  So I made them for you.”  Of course, I then felt compelled to buy a few; but hey – we are happy;  there are precious few things we can buy that are vegetarian here, so this has been a welcome addition to the luncheon options!

Truly a win-win situation:  we get a regular supply of yummy spring rolls, and she gets a few more regular customers!   In addition, her profit margin is increased as she no longer has to purchase meat. Perfect.  Supply and demand in perfect harmony….


Written by Mar(k)

April 28, 2010 at 10:54 am

Posted in Food

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. I can survive on TOFU and Chickpeas, but instant noodles would be ehhh, CUSINE. I brought boxes of the stuff from Malaysia as survival food in Mumbai. It is light, low fat and all you need is boiling water. What could be simpler?


    April 29, 2010 at 2:11 am

  2. Great to hear that survival as a vegetarian (or vegequarian) is possible in Ghana. It sounds like your creativity in the kitchen is livening up the limited resources. Good on you guys!


    May 1, 2010 at 6:34 am

    • thanks Lynne! one of the staples here is Okra (or okru, as it is known here)… we often have a giggle at the “slimy-ness” which we both love; but always think of Lars and your fantastic Okra Curry!!! xx

      Mar Knox

      May 4, 2010 at 10:36 am

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