Street food is my greatest pleasure when travelling; the combination of low cost, large portions and rich flavour are the ultimate visceral pleasures.
Although this remains a good reason alone to indulge, I have always been a firm believer that veering away from the safe, sanitised world of up-market tourist restaurants also provides an opportunity to develop an affinity for your host community.
In Ghana, street eating is not just about the food on offer, with stalls in the country’s capital Accra fulfilling a vital social function at the heart of communities. Chichinga vendors—purveyors of charred cow or goat skewers stacked high and barbecued over coal—are an especially common sight, with many Accrans professing their locals to be ‘the best in the city’. My usual vendor resided in the predominantly Muslim pocket of the city I called home.
A pattern emerged each evening, as the soothing sound of Adhan reverberated at dusk, washing over the sprawling neighbourhood from all angles. This would be the signal for the chichinga seller to warm his coals and strategically place his cart outside of one of the many local mosques as worshippers streamed into the streets following prayers. Robed men consumed mounds of unforgiving chunks of rubbery flesh, transformed from inedible items to culinary delights thanks to the Ghanaian peanut spice mix, suya.
‘Etesen (how are you)?’ would be the cordial greeting I received each visit as he fanned his white coals. ‘Me ho ye (I am good)’ my muted response. Without fail, this stunted exchange would prompt an invitation to join the chichinga seller and his animated patrons for impromptu lessons in Twi, the country’s most widely spoken Ghanaian language.
My loyal custom and insatiable appetite for this meat did not go unnoticed. ‘Obruni (white person), the way you chew that cow every night you must have a Ghanaian grandmother’, an amused customer told me as I tussled with my dinner one visit.
But keep your air-conditioned restaurants, chilled drinks and waiters, as although this is certainly not fine dining, I promise you will not find any better chichinga in all of Accra.
Alastair McCready is a British journalist.