The Kenkey Chronicles

So recently I had an interesting lesson on Fante kenkey after I had posted a picture on my facebook page as part of my chronicling my travel experiences in Tamale over the years.
It is kind of interesting to see a meal that predominantly exists in the south of Ghana travel all the way up to the northern region and it shows the cultural diversity even in foods that exists in Ghana.
The most enlightening of the experience is a Ghanaian sister born here but raised abroad who has had mixed experiences with food from ‘home’ when she was growing up in the United States. At first the questions my dear friend and sister asked me about Ghanaian culture made me wonder if she had been brought up under a stone but after getting to know her pretty well I understood what she must have sacrificed to keep her Ghanaian identity in a melting pot of other cultures that are not alien to African culture but don’t really give credence to being of African origin in a cosmopolitan society. But race relation and cultural diversity and shocks with be dealt with in another blog post.
“Good grief! How does one even eat one of those? That’s like food for three days!” This is her reaction to seeing the picture above. Another friend graciously offered to describe it for her and said that it was like 70% padded with leaves. In the southern parts of Ghana like in Cape Coast, this is true but in Tamale the padding is difficult to come by so the food is usually more than the padding. However unlike the original, the fante kenkey in Tamale is more flaky and cannot be held together.
Fante kenkey when unwrapped, has cooked corn dough inside to be eaten with fish and sauce or stew. However with the flaky one, it is better to make mashed kenkey with it. This is where you mash the kenkey with water or you blend it, add sugar and milk or peanuts (if you like) and drink it with bread. You can also chill it first before drinking it. The best image of it in those days is to have it in a coca cola bottle, chilled so it is sweating. It was the best snack in the good old days. When it is fermented too, it can booze you small – that is how far the ‘chrife’ (Christ fellowship) peeps came close to getting drunk. In my high school we used to put the mashed kenkey in bottles and bury them in the ground for weeks and this was usually more potent than ethanol when fermented.
(Good old days here refers to our days in high school when mashed kenkey was a delicacy)
The difference between the Ga kenkey and the fante kenkey is that the Ga one is wrapped with corn leaves and the fante one wrapped in plantain leaves, sometimes a polyestrene rubber is wrapped around the dough to keep it longer.
It is interesting to know that albeit being in the United States, my soul sister’s mom still made sure they had a taste of home so she made kenkey but she would wrap it in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil before dropping it into the hot water to boil. The leaves however account for part of the taste and smell.
The Fante kenkey has 3 varieties: the husk less white one, mainly done in Elmina with some other flat fragile leaves with the stalks pushed in but not common. This is called ‘nsewho’ derived from fante word ‘sew-pounding’. The pounding (threshing) removes the rubber-like covering (chaff) off the corn, hence the whitish look.
Then we have the fragile leaf covering one called ‘akorakora’ named after the name of the leaf and that is really more palatable among the three. It has some sweetness. Note this one have the chaff on just like ‘kom’ which is the name of the Ga kenkey. The ‘atakora’ has a bite and is very good for ‘mashke’ (mashed kenkey) and is only very common in Cape Coast, Elmina and Takoradi, same as the ‘nsewho’. They are both not much seen in Accra as commonly as the ‘ahatew’ variety which is the third variety.
Then the third is the plantain leaves kenkey which is covered with plantain leaves called ‘ahatew’. It is the most common.one and also has the chaff and is cooked without salt.
It is worth noting that all these varieties carry the generic name ‘Dokun’ which literally means kenkey.
In the spirit of discussion on food variety in Ghana, another food came to attention and that is fried plantain which is almost everywhere in Ghana. The Gas in the south call it Tatale and there was an interesting expose on it.
It came to light that the fantes call it ‘Tatare’ and a debate ensued whether it was any different from ‘kakrow’ since its preparation involves the same ingredients; plantain and flour mixed with spices; the spices for Tatare and Kakrow are mainly pepper, ginger and onions and mixing in with right portions of flour. It was established that one is flat and soft the other is round and firmer and they are all fried in red oil. Furthermore ‘Tatare’ is achieved out of shallow frying and ‘Kakrow’ out of deep frying.
Also in the spirit of the conversation, political anecdotes spiced the lessons. Anybody who has followed Election2012 in Ghana closely knows what we refer to as ‘free education’ (this was a campaign promise by one political party). The lessons we were deriving from this conversation on food was termed ‘free education’ by some whilst others said it was ‘quality education’ (another campaign promise from an opposing political party) based on experience. These women were really giving us tutorials on food in Ghana and we were rooted to the thread just waiting for the next information on the foods we so loved.
Then back to the mashed kenkey the discussion went. In recent times, smoothies have become a healthy way worldwide of eating fruits as meals. However in the spirit of new discoveries, the fante kenkey has become an ingredient in a smoothie mix. Instead of the usual ‘mashke’, slices of the fante kenkey can be added to any fruits mix in a smoothie. The recipe is usually slices of fante kenkey mixed with fruits like mango, banana, watermelon and with a dash of soymilk all blended together. Put in a few ice cubes and it’s a cold healthy drink and food mix at the same time. The ‘nt3w dokun smoothie’ is a delight. Try it! (omg! did i just give a secret recipe here?) However if you do not have the stomach for it, then please stay away but if you are a food connoisseur and you already love smoothies, this is a new thing to try.
Well I had good time learning about some foods in Ghana and thought to share it with you. Hope you are enlightened as I am. Thanks to Maureen Ama Adu and Bernadette Araba Adjei for the great tutorials, to Nana Awere Damoah for your contributions, and to Asom Dwoe for your great curiosity to know about your home foods.

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5 Responses to “The Kenkey Chronicles”

  1. This was lovely Kofi! I sincerely hope you will keep blogging! You’ve inspired me to blog some more about my experiences with eating GH food here in the states. “Under a stone” indeed! You just wait wai… :^)

    –Asom

  2. Kenkey is KING!

  3. In order to enable the mashke to ferment faster we put sugar in b4 burying it.
    With sugar the fermentation is also much stronger. I learnt that in SHS

  4. not every ghanaian eats or enjoys kenkey.you need to have the nerve to be able to forgo the smell of kenkey to be able to enjoy it in the first place. if its not fermented i think it will be more enjoyable. not everyone can stand fermented stuff….especially kenkey ghanaians are really great pretenders!

    • Nii if a Ghanaian does not like kenkey, he is not forced to eat it and as such need not pretend. even som of us who are raised in the south do not eat it in certain circumstances especially such as when u r going into a high profile meeting because the smell stays on your breath no matter what u do..
      nobody forces anybody to eat kenkey and am quite surprised a ga like you has to make such a submission.

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