A look at Ghana’s Famous Staple: Kenkey
If I were to look back at my childhood and flick through the various happy times and remarkable events that have formed the person that I am today, I would be able to accumulate a massive pile of kenkey-related memories that bring a smile to my face.
One can’t help but wonder why Kenkey (ground cornmeal) an incredibly “simple” corn meal has become as Ghanaian as apple pie is to America. Is it the aroma of freshly prepared kenkey with hot fried black pepper (shito)? Is it the vision of the traditionally rather large seller or vendor perhaps called “Maame Dokuno”? These are all recognizable memories that contribute to personal and collective Ghanaian memories of Ghana’s Kenkey.
Each memory is a string that may have been woven from childhood, months spent during term time at Ghanas’ secondary schools (Accra Aca in my case) and from much needed carbohydrates (Cabo as any self respecting student will call it) after a hard day’s work or sojourn in the hard baking sun. Nothing replaces lost energy faster than good ole’ Kenkey!
Given a choice between a convoluted, multi-course dinner at a fancy restaurant and the ubiquitous “komi k3 kenan” (Kenkey and fried fish) there’s no contest, especially for those to whom the local dried gin is a must. Connoisseurs of Kenkey would tell you that there is usually no need for dessert purely based on the “weight” of a typical kenkey meal.
Regardless of how far one travels away from the safe confines of Ghana it is safe to say that palates never really change.
The history of this traditional dish can be traced to the Ga, Fanti and Ewe ethnic groups in Ghana. Like most staple foods Komi (Ga), Dokuno (Fanti) and Kokwe (Ewe) is starchy, inexpensive to make and is cereal based (maize). It can be served with a variety of stews, soups or black fried pepper (shito) or the famous West African Palaver sauce.
Like most staple foods Kenkey (similar to East Africa’s Ugali) can be consumed in other forms. A quick grind or crush of a ball of Kenkey with one’s fingers in a bowl of cold or iced water turns it into what Ghanaians call “Ice Kenkey”. Sugar and milk is added.
Fran Osseo-Asare (Betumi Blog) has added extensively to the literature on the various versions of kenkey “There are numerous other versions of kenkey, including a type where the skins of the corn are removed before grinding it. A sweet version is called dokompa, and it is one of the few instances where sugar is added to a main carbohydrate (sweet potatoes or yam are also added). Kenkey can also be made from plantains, where very ripe plantains are pounded and mixed with green plantain meal (amada kokonte). Plantain kenkey is known as brodokono in Twi, afanku in Ga, and ahyenku or asenku in Fante”
Kenkey is conspicuous and easy to find especially in the Capital of Ghana, Accra. In recent memory, the only time Kenkey seemed to disappear was when King Boni Nii Amugi ii, the overlord of the Ga ethnic group was laid to rest in Accra. Ga tradition demands that all commercial activities be ceased whilst the overlord was laid to rest. In 2009, on his first official visit to Africa, the president of the USA Barrack Obama was reported to have been served Ga and Fanti Kenkey with specially grilled tilapia. Kenkey has also been an apparent inspiration for choosing blog names – “Kenkey and Fish” . There is also no shortage of web based enterprises making brisk business selling Kenkey (African Foods), especially those that cater for diasporean communities in Cities like London and New York. It’s as easy to buy Kenkey in London as it is to get it on the streets of Accra.
As Robert Giffen will have us believe the popularity of staple foods goes through the roof in times of need as prices rise. Ghana has had plenty of these especially during political upheavals in the 1980s when food was scarce. It warms the heart to know that even though the fortunes of Ghana has changed somewhat, Kenkey and other staple foods continue to serve every social stratum in Ghana as they have done from time immemorial.
For those who want detailed step by step instructions on how to prepare Kenkey, head to BetumiBlog run by a self confessed Kenkey enthusiast. For those who just want a “flavour” of its preparation, do view the video below.
Many thanks to Papa Nii and Mama Lydia at Kenkey House Adjiriganor (East Legon – Accra) for sharing their trade secrets and putting up with me for a few hours whilst my rather interfering camera clicked away.
Nii ThompsonA look at Ghana's Famous Staple: Kenkey,