Interview with Dinah Ayensu

Dinah Ayensu:
African Culinary Pioneer 25 Years Ahead of her Time

Dinah Ayensu (a.k.a. Naa Ameley Ayensu) is the author of The Art of West African Cooking, originally published in the early 1970s. During one of her frequent trips from Ghana to the U.S., Dinah met my husband (Osseo) and me for an interview in Washington, D.C. We met her first in the lobby of the hotel where she was staying, along with two Ghanaians also visiting her–Sam Amoah, a Ghanaian chef in New York, and Comfort, a former employee of Dinah’s Ghanaian tour agency, currently a student in Minnesota. As Dinah swept into the room dressed in vibrant colors, her charm and vivacity made us all family. It was no surprise to learn that her late father was a paramount chief of the Ga people. Dinah attended the prestigious Wesley Girls High School in Ghana and has a distinguished record of service in the diplomatic corps of Ghana, both in Great Britain and the U.S. Her husband, Professor Edward Ayensu, was formerly the Director of the Office of Biological Conservation at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Over lunch Dinah shared some of her thoughts and observations on West African cuisine, which have been excerpted below:

Fran: Let’s talk about The Art of West African Cooking. In the book you implied that people tasted Ghanaian food and liked it, but were unfamiliar with it and suggested you should tell people how to cook it.

Dinah: Yes. . .that was it.

Fran: Was it difficult to write up the recipes? Cooks don’t generally measure as they cook.

Dinah: Yes, it wasn’t easy. I had to learn. I had some difficulty knowing whether there was enough of it. Also, we don’t have names for our dishes as you do, so my editor came from Doubleday and sat down with me and we had to sort of figure out how to name the various dishes. And also to find the origin of some of them.

Fran: How did you do that?

Dinah: Well, from memory, and also I had a lot of help from friends and the embassy staff. I talked to people–I acknowledged them all in the book.

Fran: When the book first came out, did Doubleday do much promotion with it?

Dinah: Yes, there were speaking engagements and autograph parties throughout the U.S. The book was part of a series: The Art of Indian Cooking, The Art of West African Cooking, The Art of the West Indies. . .It blended in. Also, they had–what do you call them? cookbook club members.

Fran: So you got to do a lot of talking?

Dinah: Yes, and at schools and nursing homes. At the Smithsonian. I did cooking demonstrations.

Fran: After that flurry of activity, did you continue to do “culinary” stuff?

Dinah: I did some demonstrations on television, including the Mike Douglas Show; I also talked to schools. They were then interested in Africa.

Fran: Was this in the 70s?

Dinah: Yes, most of it.

Fran: A phenomenon I think interesting is that there were some pioneers, like yourself, who in the 1970s published books, and then those books kind of disappeared for 20 or 30 years.Now they’re reemerging. I think you were probably ahead of your time.

Dinah: Probably so, in a sense. . .At the same time, there was a need for it because people (in the U.S.) were eager to know about Africans.

Fran: It coincided with African independence, because in the 60s in the U.S. there was all this excitement with the civil rights movement and blackness and African stuff, so there was a big, sort of popular surge at that time, and then, because of all the problems that happened in Ghana and other places, it went down. . .When I came to Ghana in 1971, my husband’s sister Afua bought me Alice Dede’s cookbook Ghanaian Favorite Recipes. It helped me even though it was not very detailed, but in Ghana it’s an oral culture so people learn from others.

Dinah: That’s the best way to learn.

Comfort: by the age of 13 or 15 or so you should have learned all the basic recipes so that you don’t have to be looking in a book. In Ghana, at a certain point some time ago, if you looked in a book before you cook everybody would think you didn’t know how to cook.

Dinah: Exactly.

Comfort: You have to know the basic recipes, and after you have done that, maybe if you want some change you go to a recipe book to look for some little things to add to it. But there are some basic things you have to know how to do.

Dinah: And you learn by watching your parents, aunties and big sisters do it.

F: Now, will that change, do you think, in the future?

Dinah: No, it’s still going on. It’s still going on right now.

Fran: What about boys? No one wanted to let a boy in the kitchen when I was in Ghana.

Dinah: Nowadays they do.The boys are encouraged to learn to cook for themselves because the girls are also attending university and they don’t have many hours to spend in the kitchen.

Osseo: The men are in trouble (laughter)

Sam: A lot of men travel and they’re not around their parents any more. . . so they have to learn how to do these things.

Fran: I find for myself that when I’m working it’s hard to go home and spend a lot of time cooking.

Dinah: So you cook it in advance. And with modernization you refrigerate the cooking. Then you have whatever your husband wants, and he’s not denied the luxury of having his traditional meals. Of course, you have to pound fufu fresh each time, but the soups can be refrigerated.

Fran: I sometimes think they taste better the second day.

Dinah: They always do. The food matures, it seasons and it’s tastier the next day. But really, people have this false impression that our foods are overspiced. It’s a matter of individual taste. If you prefer it very hot, you make it hot. It’s like the use of salt: if you don’t want salt, you don’t put it in. Also, if you watch throughout the whole world, people in the tropics they all love hot food. Trinidad, and the Islands and Brazil, and so on. They all eat spicy food.

Sam: It’s like Mexican food. Even though it’s considered spicy it’s not all that spicy. It’s just the flavors. . .Cajun food from the south, Louisiana style. . .it doesn’t have to be hot. . .

Fran: I found it interesting when you said, Brazilian or West Indian food, food that people think is so authentic and exciting–very, very rarely do they recognize the extent of African influences

Dianh: So why don’t they give us credit for it? It’s like curry–the use of curry is Indian–the Indian cooks that were cooking for the colonial masters–they applied a lot of their spices and herbs and that’s how we acquired the use of those herbs and spices in our cuisine. But everybody recognizes that curry is Indian. Middle Eastern. So why don’t they give us Africans credit for the recipes that they are familiar with? They always push it aside. Now groundnut soup has become international–everybody loves it, and palaver sauce, spinach, and even fufu–it took a long time before they would taste it–now, they love it. And kenkey. Fried fish. It’s the same–we fry fish the same way the Japanese and the Chinese fry fish–whole, with the head. And yet, if an African puts a whole fish with the head on a plate, they say “yuk. I don’t want it.” When a Japanese does it, it’s okay. I don’t understand it. It’s very confusing.

Osseo: Americans used to treat Japanese the same way. And then the Japanese got power.You know, even when I was a child, they used to laugh at things that were made in Japan. For example, you go to buy a kerosene lamp–made in Germany or the UK, it’s supposed to be durable, but if it’s made in Japan, everyone is nervous. It’s the same in this country (the U.S.).When the Japanese started making cars, Americans who didn’t have high standards would be the ones buying cars because they were cheaper.Then the cars were found to last longer, have better mileage, etc., and then Americans started to give them some respect.It’s now to the point where the Japanese are setting up plants in the U.S. and hiring Americans to make Japanese cars.

Dinah: So now they have to respect everything they do, including their food?

Osseo: So now they respect their food. Now their food is “gourmet.”

Fran: For example, consider “sushi.” Can you imagine Americans eating raw fish? And now, it’s the “in” thing, with sushi bars.

Dinah: And snakes. The Koreans eat snakes. I understand they dress it in the marketplace for you. If they know Africans are eating snakes, nobody will eat them.

Osseo: The French eat frogs’ legs, right?

Dinah: And we don’t.

Sam: Snails are something that we have back home.

Dinah: The French eat snails and it’s a delicacy. When they come to Ghana, they are afraid of the giant snails.

Fran: It seems like there are two standards.

Dinah: Two standards!

Fran: The perception is “Oh, it’s African. Ugh!”

Dinah: As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the finest cusines in the world. All this roasting and barbeque, it started in Africa.

Fran: That’s interesting because I understand that the California Culinary Academy is setting up a new curriculm based upon four cuisines, and one of those is West African–partially because of frying and barbeque and those techniques which they think originated in Africa. That’s a shift in culinary training. (To Sam: I’ll bet you didn’t study African cuisine when you were in culinary school. Sam: Not at all.) And you mentioned some ingredients, too, that may have originated in Africa, and yet Africa and Africans are not given credit. Those are some of the things that it’s up to people who know better to begin to talk about.

Sam: That’s why a lot of credit has to go to people like Auntie Dinah here. Because we have to have people to write these books and let them know that we have these things. . . and these recipes, from way back.

Dinah: It’s very important. That’s why I came up with The Art of West African Cooking–not just Ghanaian, but West African. A little bit at a time, before we can cover the whole of Africa. And Africa–Morocco is included, you know. And yet they separated them. When you have Moroccan couscous it’s supposed to be exotic. It costs more than the gari in West Africa. What is the difference? Food for the masses, you know. It’s like the American and his hot dog.

Fran: I think part of it is a lack of awareness. I talked to some people who import and sell couscous in the U.S. and I told them about gari, and they were interested. Or the red oil palm. It’s had bad press in the U.S. and is seen as high in cholesterol and really unhealthy, and apart from Africans and West Indians who know where to go to certain stores and get it, no one has tasted it. In order to make these oils as available as peanut or olive or corn oil or even butter, it’s up to some of us to convince the stores that there would be a market for such things. Right now Americans are into all kinds of exotic new foods. I wish that they would come into a restaurant and want to have. . .

Dinah: Palm nut soup.

Fran: Right. Or tatale or red-red.

Sam: I’d like to give an example of peanut butter. You have kids, and they get up in the morning and spread peanut butter on bread. And yet you tell the child about peanut butter stew or soup, and suddently “Yuk. It’s African” and, though it’s basically the same thing, except one is in a paste and one is more soupy, you know.

Fran: Are you sure? I cook with kids, and, surprisingly, I find a lot of them are willing to try the soup.

Sam: They don’t think there’s anything wrong with peanut butter, but soup, oh, no.

Comfort: People at school see my food and they like it more than their own, and often ask me to open a restaurant.

Dinah: Remember, right now you are in school (laughter).

Fran: Sometime I do things at multicultural fairs. If I cook very very simple recipes, like plantain chips or kelewele, people often love them. Or rice balls. Kids like to make rice balls. I agree that part of it is what you say. People don’t know, so as long as no one challenges some of this nonsense, everyone assumes things that aren’t true.

Dinah: I think this discussion is healthy because in a way we are helping to educate ordinary people so they should at least be willing to give it a try–to be a little adventurous. When our visitors come (Fredina Tours) we are very cautious about the recipes that we prepare for them to eat because the time frame of the tour is very short. We don’t want anyone getting sick and blaming it on a particular food they eat that they haven’t had before. If they are there for three months, it’s different. But when they are there for 7 days, we don’t want to leave anybody behind, so we give them grilled chicken and beef stew and rice. We don’t immediately introduce them to fetri detsi (okro soup), because if your system is not accustomed to okro, it can sometimes “work on you.”

Fran: Do you notice any difference with your visitors coming from different parts of the U.S.–say Minnesota, as opposed to Virginia?

Dinah: It’s usually a mixed group. Sometimes we give them a planned menu, to accomodate special needs like vegetarian, diabetic, etc. It’s approved by the group leader, and they have an idea of what they’re going to have. No surprises.

Fran: Do African Americans and White Americans have any differences in their reactions to the food?

Dinah: No. Not at all.It’s the same. . . For instance, we eat rice and beef stew in the morning for breakfast if we want, or kenkey and fried fish. Kenkey is like tamales–it’s steamed corn dough. The Americans come thinking they’re going to have continental breakfast, and before you know it, they’re in the kitchen eating rice and stew. 8 o’clock in the morning. Something they will never dare do here. Maybe somewhere in the south people do. But around here (Washington, D.C.) most people want toast and sausages–when they come, they don’t want toast and sausages.They want to eat what the local people eat, and they enjoy it.

Fran: That’s interesting. It’s true, I find that often when people find out what Ghanaian dishes taste like, they’re really excited.

Comfort: It’s true. One of the students at my school who went (to Ghana) came back and now he knows where (in Minnesota) to find all of the ingredients to cook Ghanaian food He really likes Ghanaian food now.

Dinah: Ghana has the most delicious pineapple in the whole world. It’s the sweetest, the most delicious. Anybody can attest to that.

Osseo: If you say that, I can believe you. Do you know why? Because your husband is one of the leading botanists.(laughter)

Dinah: Not really. Anyone can taste it and tell.

Osseo: Putting his authority and your authority together, I can really believe anything you say (laughter).

Dinah: You can check it. It’s called the sugar loaf pineapple, and it grows in a specific region in Ghana. It has a short lifespan, which makes it difficult to export it. Some people have managed to export it to Europe, but not to the Americas. But it’s the best in the world.

Fran: All I know is that yesterday, when my daughter Abena left for Ghana, I felt sad because I knew she’d be eating really good food and I wouldn’t be there.

Dinah: Pineapples, mangos, lemon and pawpaws (papaya) in the morning for breakfast–very healthy–we have all these fruits to enjoy. People hardly eat cereals in the mornings. They eat fruits.

Fran: One of the things I find it is difficult for people in the U.S. to get used to is the absence of rich, heavy desserts like pies. However, with the shift in the U.S. now to lighter desserts, if you can get really fresh fruits, like papaya sprinkled with lime juice, it is more similar to what one would eat in Ghana. Still, it’s hard for Americans to understand why you wouldn’t want a heavy dessert after soup and fufu.

Dinah: When they come to Ghana, they forget all about the apple pies.They go in for the fresh, tropical fruits. And it’s healthy for you.

Osseo: So, on the average, how many tour groups come to Ghana with your agency? Or is it better to say, how many people do you see a year?

Dinah: We’ve been in operation for almost 5 years. It’s decent. People usually come in groups of 15-20.We’ve held conferences which we’ve organized for several hundred people. It varies quite a bit. I guess I’d estimate 300-500 people a year. Tourism is growing in Ghana. It’s now starting. And that’s why I’m here (in the U.S.). To promote the business. It’s a new destination in tourism, and we have to advertise. People still don’t about Ghana.

F: After the enthusiasm of the 60s and early 70s people shifted their attention to other places. In the U.S., as you know, most of Africa has very bad press: AIDS, starvation, war, that’s all people think of when they think of Africa. We need a more sophisticated awareness of Africa and things African–you’re working in the tourism industry–to counteract the misperceptions about that. I personally think, that there’s a possibility that in the 90s and as we’re going into the next century, there’s a chance for books like yours to take their rightful place in culinary history. When you told me that you had republished it, I was very excited.There’s another woman–Nigerian Ola Olore–who wrote The Best Kept Secrets of West & East African Cooking–in 1980, and it’s been rereleased in the 90s as Traditional African Cooking. Also, Bill Odartey–or Blii Odartey–has rereleased his book, so actually, now you can find, now that yours is out, at least 4 of the classic books from the 70s (80s) that are being rereleased. I’m trying to convince publishers and culinary magazines that there’s a whole generation of Americans–including but not limited to the African American community–that are interested in African, and especially West African, cuisines. . .

Dinah: Yes, and in our cuisine there are some classic recipes, and all we need is to get the chance to share it with the world.

Fran: And to bring it in at the level at which it deserves?

Dinah: Precisely.

Fran: Thickening soups with pureed groundnuts is a sophisticated concept.

Dinah: Yes, it is.

Fran: When I have cooked Ghanaian food for Japanese visitors–such as garden egg stew with shrimp and smoked fish–they loved it.

Dinah: They love it! I had an executive lunch/dinner during one of those international conferences in Ghana–they invited the Japanese separately. They loved the fish, the smoked fish, the shrimps–they are very close to their own traditional cooking. And yet, if you tell them you are taking them to an African restaurant, they all hesitate. They want to go, rather, to Chinese.But if you get them individually or privately in your home, they love everything, and I mean everything.

Fran: Okay, but in Ghana now, you’ve not actually been teaching cooking, apart from occasional demonstrations?

Dinah: Not officially. I do it informally, but my interest in cooking is very high. In fact, I was planning to open a restaurant and serve classic recipes, but it’s cost intensive and also time consuming. I can’t do that and the tours at the same time.

F: Right. Okay, but you think there’s a need in Ghana for a really world class restaurant that serves Ghanaian cuisine?

Dinah: Definitely.

Fran: We’ve talked about traditional cuisine. I’m also interested in asking you about contemporary Ghanaian cuisine. I noticed from reading your cookbook, that you, like many educated Ghanaian women I know, are creative, and you will adapt the classic dishes. . .

Dinah: Before the publishers would accept the book (The Art of West African Cooking), it had to have classic, conventional methods of cooking. Before they would accept it, they told me “we can’t do this”–“in America they don’t know about this and that and so and so.” At the time I was writing the book, they didn’t know about fresh ginger roots. Some of the people in the Washington area didn’t know what okra was. So, the message we conveyed in the book was to make it possible to highlight some of the ideas–to educate those who were interested.

Fran: Okay, but just from looking at Ghana over the last 30 years, do you think that the contemporary Ghanaian cuisine has. . .

Dinah: Changed? Oh, it has changed a lot. I’m intending to write another book.

Fran: What are some of the ways in which you think it’s changing?

Dinah: For instance, we are using more condiments. Modern condiments like MSG (monosodium glutamate), Accent, Chinese sauces, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup. We are using some of them in our recipes. Mustard. Vinegar. Lemon– squeezing it over the fish and chicken and marinating it. We were not doing that before but now we do.We used to cleanse the chicken with lemon, but the idea was not to marinate it.

Fran: So condiments is one of the big areas in which you see changes. Any others?

Dinah: Yes. Also sugar. Earlier we were not using much sugar.

Fran: Is that a change for the better??

Dinah: Nowadays people have developed a sweet tooth. Before they were not much inclined to eating sweets.

Fran: In my experience, Ghanaian cuisine is not a sugary cuisine.

Dinah: No.

Fran: In Japanese cuisine you actually add sugar to the food. I can’t think of any classic dishes–like soups or stews–where you add sugar.

Dinah: No, we don’t.We don’t mix sugar and salt.

Fran: Anything else?

Dinah: Our cooking is not individualistic, like a salad and. . .it’s onepot for economic reasons–when you have large families, so that you have enough for all.

Fran: Tell us something about regional differences.

Dinah: There are regional differences in the cooking, depending on the crops they grow. The people in the North use mostly river fish because they don’t have the ocean. We (in the south) export smoked ocean fish to them, and they also send us the smoked river fish. Smoked for the purpose of refrigeration. Then they have more grains and rice in the north. In the north they grow sorghum and a few other grains. Also, the people in the Ashanti region eat more of the vegetables like spinach and kontomire. And plantain, and root vegetables. And the people in the south eat more fish and seafood dishes.

Fran: Yes. I learned to eat kenkey and fried fish when I lived in Nungua.

Dinah: Kenkey is delicious.

Fran: When I go back to Ghana and people ask what I want it’s either going to be banku and okra stew or kenkey and fried fish with some pepper sauce.

Dinah: (laughter) Did you have to acquire the taste for okra stew, because of the draw?

Fran: I think I probably did. My mother has southern roots, but we never ate okra in Oregon or California. I never ate it until I went to Ghana. But I notice with my cookbook, when you look at reviews around the U.S., and the testers, it’s very interesting because of the regional differences–people from the southern U.S. are, say, more attracted to kenkey–that’s more similar to corn things my mother used to eat–they crumble cornbread in milk and the idea of fermenting it doesn’t bother them–it’s more like hominy and grits and things like that. And they find okra fine. I had testers from Pennsylvania who would not eat avocado without putting sugar on it. The ones from California loved it. In Pennsylvania, children often haven’t even heard of plantain. In Florida, it’s as common as bananas here. Everybody eats them. It’s interesting. So, if you had a tour group coming from southern states, they would probably really like things with okra–they would like things like kenkey or banku.

Dinah: In Ghana, people from the Volta Region–banku is their mainstay. They love it. Also, in Ghana we also don’t use too much milk–cheeses and milk–in our cooking. Maybe the people in the north who are herdsmen, they might tend to add yogurt and milk.

Fran: The only milk I had when I was in Ghana in the 70s was in tins. Now you can get it fresh. When we were there in 1994, we could get fresh milk. . .By the way, what are your favorite dishes?

Dinah: Fried fish and kenkey. I like good light soup.

Fran: What do you like in your light soup?

Dinah: Smoked fish or goat meat. Hmmm. . .what else? I like beans. Anything with beans (Note: she had black bean soup over lunch at the restaurant where I interviewed her). Like tatale and aboboi (ripe plantain pancakes and stewed beans). Aboboi is bambara beans. You know that?

Fran: Yes. I’ve been trying to find bambara beans here.

Dinah: Have you tried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)? They’re not the same, but it’s a good substitute.

Fran: I heard in Chicago that there’s a culinary historian (Will Weaver) who has bambara beans and will give me some to grow if I want them. But I didn’t know you can subsitute chickpeas for them. Have you ever done it?

Dinah: Yes, I have.

Fran: Tatale. I was having trouble with that one, because I was trying to reduce the palm oil for frying them.

Dinah: Then don’t make the mixture too soft.When you don’t make the mixture too soft you can use very little oil. And use teflon.

Fran: Yes, I was brushing the oil on teflon. I always get asked about the red oil palm.

Dinah: The red oil palm is not as hazardous to your health as they talk about, if you use it discreetly.You can use a little bit to make the stews, you don’t have to pour a whole cupful. I use like 2 dessertspoonfuls.

Fran: I mix it with other oils, like peanut oils.

Dinah: But do you know we have different variations of palm oil? Zomi, for example.

Fran: I know–the ginger and spices give it a great flavor. I talk about that in Akwaaba (a cookbook I’m currently writing). But it’s such a big job, Dinah. First, you have to teach people that “Africa” is not one country.

Dinah: It’s not one country. (laughter)

Fran: Then, you have to teach people that there are different kinds of cuisines in different parts of Africa. You can’t just say “African cooking.” Then you have to begin by explaining to them that within, say, West Africa, there were different colonial influences and that some parts are anglophone, or francophone, or lusophone.

Dinah: Precisely. Precisely.

Fran: And then you have to teach them, even within a single cournty, like Ghana, there are different regions. There are so many things to explain. For example, the oil. If you’re Italian, you realize that there are different qualities and kinds of olive oil. There’s virgin, there’s extra virgin. . .it’s the same in Ghana with palm oil.

Dinah: It’s the same thing, but they don’t think so.

Fran: A yam is not just a yam.

Dinah: Even the smoked herring. There are different grades of smoked herring. . .We have many different kinds of seafood: prawns, shrimps, baby barracudas, red snappers, cassava fish, bass, perch, silverfish, sole, and so forth–it’s the same Atlantic ocean. . .

Fran: We talked a lot about differences in Ghanaian and American cuisine, like differences in sugar and milk. Let’s look at similarities. We know that there are similarities. Our southern cooking in the U.S., okra and black-eyes peas and greens–those are influences of Africa. A lot of cooking techniques–deepfrying, you were saying barbecuing, are African techniques. So would you agree that some of the similarities are some of the ingredients and some of the cooking techniques that came from Africa?

Dinah: Yes. And the use of (hot) peppers. Varieties of peppers. And peanut oil.

Fran: Any other similarities or differences that come to mind?

Dinah: Eating with fingers.

Fran: What about hamburgers and french fries and pizza? Watermelon?

Dinah: Yes. And fried chicken. But they (in the U.S.) are taught to use cutlery. But the natural thing is to pick it up from your plate and feel the food–touch it. It all adds to the pleasure of eating.

Fran: Okay, so that’s a similarity, as well as a difference.

Dinah: I don’t think Black American use smoked fish in their cooking. Their palates have not been trained to focus on smoked fish.

Fran: But they use smoked ham, or bacon? Do you think they’ve substituted. . .

Dinah: If you go to the specialty sections of the grocery stores, you have varieties of anchovies or kippers, herrings, smoked bacon, things like that. Well, they use smoked ham hocks, but not seafood–smoked shrimps and smoked barracudas, tuna. . . They will prefer the ham hocks and the bacon.

Fran: You also mentioned that in Ghana you can eat a heavy meal for breakfast.

Dinah: Yes, in fact, for some people it’s economic–they they don’t have to worry about lunch, or sometimes even dinner–they can just have something small. Once they get a heavy meal in the morning, they feel satisfied throughout the day. And it’s supposed to be better for you than eating heavy late in the day.

And dessert, as you know, is not part of the menu. It was an English influence on our culture. We know how to make cakes and breads and puddings, but those are all things that were taught by the colonial rulers.

Fran: One of the things that I’ve noticed–as an outsider–in Twi they say “The strangers eyes are very big with looking, but he doesn’t see anything” (ohoho ani akeseakese nanso onhu hwee).

Dinah: It means you open your eyes widely see a lot but you don’t understand it.

Fran: Right. People say “They’re not civilized.” “They don’t eat 7 courses,” and all this. I say, look, if you go to a party in Ghana, you’ll see people eating chichinga and drinking beer, THAT’s the first course. Later they will go and have soup and fufu, and later they might have snacks, too. They just don’t do it all sitting at the table.

Dinah: There are people who will say they haven’t eaten the whole day, simply because they haven’t had their soup and fufu. If you give them anything–bread sandwich, Caesar salad, they don’t consider it as food, until they’ve sat down with their bowl of fufu and soup. Or fish and kenkey for the Gas (the Ga people).

F: Of course. In fact, it happened to me in Ghana. I was doing my research for my dissertation. We were interv iewing people about what they had to eat–it was 24 hour recall. And people would say (in Twi): I only ate once today.I ate. . .blah, blah, blah. Then you find out, they ate all day long, but the only one they counted was the heavy one. So I’m very sensitive to that.

Dinah, thank you for taking time to talk with us. We’ll work with you to get the word out about West African cuisine and also help you get the credit you deserve for your pioneering work.

Dinah: Thank you.


 

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