One of South Africa’s finest chefs, Makatisha Reeva Motsepe-Mphulwane, and friends took a “long left” to Ghana to explore its culture, cuisine and gallant history. Here she generously share with us their experience…

Upon our arrival at Kotoka International Airpot in Accra, we were greeted by an inscribed boldly Akwaaba on an overhead panel. It directly translates to mean ‘welcome’. If someone addresses you with this you should respond by saying ‘medaase’ (pronounced ‘me-daa-si’) which means ‘thank you’, a Twi dialect, by the Akan tribe. Akuapim Twi became the prestige dialect because it was the first dialect to be used for Bible translation. Fante Twi and Ashanti Twi are also spoken by a large population.

As we were adjusting to the humid and hot weather, we were warmly welcomed by a buzz of hard working men and women who immediately directed us to individual COVID-19 testing stations where we did our tests as per global traveling protocols. 

Then we proceeded to be cleared by Immigration Desk and the whole process was so efficient that I had forgotten the little trauma I suffered, having flown for a total of  12 hours from SA, connecting at Addis Ababa to Accra, Ghana. Ordinarily the trip was supposed to be 5hrs 30min, straight from SA to Ghana if we could have flown directly.

Just as we exited the airport building escorted to our taxi taking us to the hotel, my mask was soaking wet with sweat and I yearned for the cold breeze of the taxi aircon atleast. A cold shower is what actually managed to cool me down and I gulped cold water like a thirsty dog as soon we checked in at the Kwarleyz Hotel Apartments. 

Although we are still reeling from the scorching heat and humid weather, Accra is a well developed city, the hub of Ghana’s economy. Their currency, Cide is three times more valuable than the South African Rand. There is also a lot of micro businesses and trade too. I applaud mostly the hard working women who dominate at the Makola Market – the biggest Market found at Accra, selling fabrics, beads, raw sheabutter, black soap, spices , fish, cocoa etc. The history behind the pricey beads worn by women on their waistline and ankles in particular caught my utmost attention. They are meant to enhance intimacy between a woman and her male counterpart, because during the sexual act, the man will individually count the beads while in cloud 9 before coming (although I doubt it’s practical). It is believed that if a woman intend stealing someone’s man, wearing beads is such an attractive attribute as they beam in the dark, that men often can’t resist. Yes, I got myself a couple of those because I wanted to test that theory into practice. I’m in stitches as I write this.

The market is a clear indication of driven entrepreneurs who are defying the odds of poverty and adversity to put bread on their tables. The economy is mostly driven by agriculture, gold and cocoa, the chocolate made from their cocoa is by far the best. Managed to indulge with the ginger flavoured Niche Milk chocolate. It was also interesting to see that most fuel stations, sold alcohol and books that we normally expect to find at bookstores. A culture shock for me indeed!

After three nights at Accra, we drove for 3 hours to Elmina Cape Coast and the further we drove, the more heat and humid we experienced. The main aim was to visit the Elmina Cape Coast Castle – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the biggest tourist attraction in the city. Ths indigenous slavery fort is where Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade took place in the 1700s and lasted for 400 years. Enslaved Africans had to endure horrid living conditions in the castle dungeons and on the boats that shipped them. At the seaboard side of the castle was the “Door of No Return”, the infamous portal through which slaves boarded the ships that would take them on the treacherous journey across the Atlantic known as the Middle Passage, to North and South America, the Caribbean, Europe and other destinations. 

As we walked through the castle and dangeons, I could not help but became very emotional as our tour guide narrated how women during their menses, had to bleed on themselves and sleep on top of their menses, congested with other women without bathing, at the most. The only time they could get washed, fed and dressed, was when the Governor had chosen the ‘luckiest’ woman from the rest, to rape her.

Falling pregnant was somewhat a gateway to being ‘freed’ from the rest and being taken out of the castle to a secluded place. After giving birth, the children being that of the masters and very light in complexion, would be given preference to attend school and aquire formal education. Just Imagine how so many cultures, languages, religions, identities, etc, were lost during those transitions. Someone hand me Kleenex, my tears are refusing to dry up.

Elmina is more relaxed compared to the buzz at Accra. I observed that young children are burdened with hustling, heading households, selling one thing or the other for survival. The country is safe, we walked around freely as women. They have zero tolerance for theft or corruption and gender based violence against women and children, the citizens take it upon themselves to deal with thieves. Ghanains are kind, gentle, calm, respectful. I really loved and admired their temperament. 

The Ghanaian cuisine consisted mostly seafood like lobsters, shrimps, calamari, tilapia, banku and shito sauce. Banku and Tilapia is a traditional Ghanaian dish that is very common amongst all regions in Ghana. Banku is basically a mixture of corn dough/flour mixed with cassava dough/flour. It can be eaten with various sauces such as stew, hot pepper sauce, soup etc. Tilapia is a river fish that is a delicacy in Ghana. It can be used for stew, soups and also eaten by grilling, baking and frying. Fufu and goat light soup is also popular amongst the locals. Light soup is a local indigenous soup of the GaDangme(or Ga) people of the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. Originally formulated as a ‘Tomatoes-Base Sea Fish Light Soup’ called ‘Aklo(or Aklor)’ for fishermen at the coast of Accra, but over the course of time it evolved into a soup prepared with both ‘fish and goat-meat’, or ‘fish and lamb-meat’, or ‘fish and beef’, or ‘exclusively the meat of the livestock of choice’, and of which the GaDangmes(or Gas) call ‘Toolo Wonu’, but their neighbouring ‘Akans’ call ‘Aponkye Nkrakra’. Tilapia fish and the shito sauce, remain my favourite and as a Chef, I’ve taken it upon myself to purchase the spices and herbs at Makola Market and I’ll not stop until I master the recipe. I learnt a bit of the Twi language, which is the most dominant in the country. 

After three nights at the coast, we drove back to Accra and spent some time at Labadi Beach where we soaked in the sun and enjoyed long beach rides on horses. We came to realise that ordering food at Ghana’s restaurants and hotels, required patience that we ended up having to adjust to. That level of patience required when teaching a learner to drive a car.

Traveling tests your sense of adjustment in a foreign country. And I must say that, I take my hat off to my traveling crew members who made nine days and nights look and feel like the best getaway ever. Like all other countries in the continent, the question is, with all the mineral resources and labour, why is Ghana not flourishing? Let’s emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for the shackles of Elmina Castle, are now hanging in the museum as a remnant of what our ancestors endured as slaves, but we remain slaves to atrocities by those who colonised us even today. I remain confident that one day we shall overcome as the African continent and manifest greatness that our ancestors fought and dreamt for.

As it is said, ‘A country is its people.’ Ghanians have mastered the art of selling themselves, their rich culture, history and their crafts to tourists which speaks to hope and strength in a country. I remain confident that, I’ll be returning soon.

Chef Makatisha Reeva Motsepe-Mphulwane is the Johannesburg-based founder of Makatisha Culinary Effects