Saturday, September 18, 2010

"Would You Like Fries With That?"
Western Cuisine Meets West Africa

Chicken and avocado wrap from Smoothy's.
When I travel abroad, one of my absolute favorite activities is to sample the local cuisine. You can learn a lot about a culture by the types of foods they eat, the types of seasonings, and so on. Italian food, for instance, is robust, flavorful, passionate, whereas French food is more subtle, complex, and dry. So one of the first things that really hit me when I got to Ghana was that traditionally Western food seemed vastly more prevalent than African food around town. Sure, I had gotten used to seeing burger and pizza joints across Europe, but I expected something a little different when I came to Africa. And perhaps that's exactly what I got: a little different.

During my first week here, I actually went considerably out of my way in search for authentic Ghanaian food, a search that yielded only moderate success. While I was staying in my hotel and ordering dinner in every night, I made a point to restrict myself to the rather meager section of African dishes on the menu, easily working my way through all of the options before week's end. A few basic Ghanaian foods are easy to come by: Banku and Tilapia (fermented mashed corn and a very bony fish), Joloff rice and chicken, to name a few, but would you believe that it's actually much easier to find Chinese or Indian food walking down Oxford Street, Accra's main drag? While you won't see a McDonalds or Jamba Juice, you certainly will stumble upon Papaye and Smoothy's, their close relatives.

I've been trying to figure out why this might be the case since the original realization hit me. Perhaps the restaurants cater to the on-average wealthier expat community and upper class of locals who have spent time living internationally? Perhaps it's simply a vestige of colonial rule? Or maybe people just like Western food better. It's hard to say. What do you think?

7 comments:

Louise said...

Very interesting about the prevalence of Western food. Reminds me - one of the Mexican places I have ever eaten in is in Lausanne, Switzerland! _ Randy Summers

Matt Hintsa said...

From what I've observed, one of the easiest ways for residents of the developing world to aspire to the lifestyle of those living in the developed world is through eating the food they consider prototypical of the west. It's within reach financially, and the comparatively high levels of salt and fat are enticing enough for some to make it a regular habit.

Benjamin Cole said...

Hm, a good point, Matt! Hadn't considered that.

Hermina said...

Would like a critical review of the Chinese and Indian cuisines. (Ha ha!)

Brian said...

What I'm actually most curious about, strangely enough, is if you've noticed teeth. I've read a few ethnographic studies about why dental hygiene is surprisingly not too bad in underdeveloped nations. I'm not exactly sure about in Africa, but I know a lot of South Pacific island nations have diets based mostly on softer foods, which do not destroy teeth quite as bad Western meat, sugar, starch and processed-food based diets. The post made me wonder if this transition from traditional to more Western-oriented cuisines has already had an affect on dentistry.

Benjamin Cole said...

That is an interesting question, Brian. While I haven't so much noticed the state of locals' teeth, I think that is perhaps almost as telling as if I had. I don't think I've seen anyone with truly diseased or yellowed teeth, so you could very well be right about it having something to do with the regional diet.

Robyn said...

Brian so smart!