When living the expat life in exotic places, one of my favorite things to do is have lunch or dinner with friends in interesting local eateries, the sort of establishments you might not find in, say, Holland, or the US. There are reasons for that, of course, but let’s not go into that.
I now live in Moldova, and exotic is not the word that comes to mind when discussing food and restaurants. The regular fare is generally Eastern European and certainly there are nice restaurants that offer good food, but so far I have not had a truly memorable dining experience.
For years my husband and I lived in Accra, the capital of Ghana in West Africa, a town that abounds in fun places to eat. Just look at the photo above by Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah and you know what I mean. So here’s a tale of one of my evenings out with friends. As all expats know, when you live in foreign lands it’s best not to cling too diligently to the rules and manners your mama taught you.
Note: This is a repost from more than two years ago.
GOING FOR CHOP (eating out Ghana style)
My man and I are on our way to join a few friends for dinner at the Blue Gate, a fish place somewhere in Osu, the happening neighborhood of Accra, Ghana. We’ve not eaten there before, but as always we are eager for a new dining experience.
We find the eating establishment in a dark, narrow street crowded with people, goats and food stalls illuminated by kerosene lamps. Outside the restaurant’s gates, along the road, is the enormous charcoal grill with a number of good-looking fish sizzling away, tended by several bored-looking girls. Well, they’re young; they’d rather be dancing.
Inside the gates is the open-air terrace restaurant. We find the gang, already there, drinking beer and sharing a huge fish, eating with their fingers, the proper way. There is no silverware, but plastic bowls with water, a bit of tired soap, and small towels are available for the germ-conscious. The table is covered with a plastic cloth in garish colors with a fitting design of beer bottles. The lighting consists of a single fluorescent tube. All tables are occupied and the crowd is laughing and happy. This pleases me. I like happy people.
We are three Ghanaians, three Americans, one Canadian, one Swede and one Dutch person (me), in case this is of interest to you.
More beer is delivered to the table. If we want fish, the waitress informs us, we must go to the grill outside and choose one. So we do, selecting a big sucker of a swimmer, its exact identity unknown to us. In the mean time, we are invited to partake of the one already on the table. Also on the table is a plate with banku, pasty-white lumps of boiled, fermented corn mash, their squashed shapes resembling tennis balls tortured by misfortune. Banku has a slightly sour flavor, and is, let us say, an acquired taste.
We pick away at the fish while we listen to the entertainment, a Ghanaian songstress with a cheap guitar. She’s a Rasta Sistah, says our friend Tara, who has recently seen her at a party. The Rasta Sistah has a Rasta hairdo, dread locks, wears jeans and a scarlet blouse with long sleeves. Her black purse dangles off her shoulder while she treats us to her music. Her pretty face sports laughing eyes and a big mouth full of beautiful white teeth. She sings with enthusiasm, vigor and no talent. Her thumb strums the guitar with force, in the key of C only. She’s unabashedly loud, belting out sixties’ tunes and reggae songs, taking occasional liberties with the lyrics. For the fun of it, we join in now and again. “Tell me you lo-o-ove me only…” we all wail and she rushes up to our table to give us the full benefit of her C chord.
We all agree the girl has no singing talent, (but then, neither do we), but we admire her profoundly for having the guts to demonstrate this so publicly.
Someone with more talent is lotor-matic who took the photo of the Perfect God Restaurant, another wonderful example of a Ghanaian eatery.
In the mean time our mystery fish arrives, head and tail intact, and we all dig in with our fingers and eat to the Rasta Sistah blaring Let’s send praise to the Lord and we will feel awlright, which is comforting to know when partaking of food in a place like this.
The fish, rest assured, is delicious–crispy on the outside and cooked just right. The hot sauce and the vegetables that accompany it are flavorful and we all enjoy, our fingers getting stickier and greasier, as they should.
What do we talk about, you ask? We discuss spiritualists, juju, witches, and other dark and mysterious affairs. This is West Africa, what do you expect?
Another dark and mysterious affair is the restroom. When at some point I inquire as to its location, some vague hand signals point me into a general direction. As I wander off, a waitress appears and, hoping for a more definitive answer, I ask her where the ‘toilet’ is.
“Come with me,” says the waitress, and I follow her swaying hips into a gloomy building and down a long, dark corridor. It’s a good thing she’s wearing a white blouse–I follow the glow. She turns left, opens a door, walks in and points
“Here,” she states confidently.
In the semi darkness, I see her standing right next to a toilet, indeed. I glance up and see a comatose light bulb on a wire dangling down into the middle of the small washroom. “What about the light?” I ask. It’s not one of my brighter moments, shall we say.
“It has spoiled,” she says.
“Okay, thank you. I’ll do without.” As if I have a choice. I should learn to carry a flashlight in my purse, along with my tissues, duct tape, Valium, stun gun. All right, I’m kidding. About the Valium.
The waitress disappears through the door. I close it, finding myself now enveloped in deep darkness, if not in deep silence. The voice of our irrepressible chanteuse penetrates even the bowels of this building, assuring me cheerily, for the second time this evening, that ev’ry little thing gonna be awlright. Let’s hope so. I feel for a key in the door, find one and turn it. The lock works, which is not something to be taken for granted.
I stand for a while, wondering how to proceed, until my eyes begin to adjust. The faintest bit of silvery moonlight is filtering in through a tiny window. After another minute or so, I see the barely perceptible contours of the white toilet taking shape in the darkness. Bingo, I am in business, be it carefully.
I can even find the flusher handle, and it works, it really does. Gingerly I trace my way back to the door, unlock it and move into the shadowy hall way, where I find a small sink, with running water, if no soap or towels.
You think this is bad? Clearly, you’ve led a sheltered life.
Back at the table, I find my friends looking over the bill, checking additions and making divisions. We have nourished our bodies with food and drink, our souls with song and laughter–all for the sum of three bucks a piece.
Ghana, what a wonderful country.
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Tell me your tales of exotic, fun or bizarre eating experiences. I’m exotic-deprived!
i love hearing about such wonderful experiences for such a bargain!!! and even more – i love eating with my hands! 🙂
LOL – what a great story!
The photos made me think of our favorite Senegalese restaurant. Brightly decorated with the Maggi cube logo, it was called “Restaurant Never Die.” We figured it was all the MSG and preservatives in the Maggi cubes.
Oh, yes, the ubiquitous Maggi cubes. I think it was in Ghana where they made a big deal about adding vitamin B to the cubes and therefore giving the impression they were a healthy food . . .
In Mexico we paid some singers to perform somewhere else (a few tables away).
And I remember a jail cell that had a hole in the floor, that flushed once in a while.
I’ve used many a hole in the ground, but never in a jail cell. What were you doing in a jail cell?
Sometimes singers do not add to the general eating ambience 😉 and sometimes there is that je ne sais quoi element that makes bad sounding good.
Nowadays you don’t even have to go to Ghana to find toilets in that condition! I’ve been to bathrooms in several countries that would put that Ghanaian toilet in top spot!
Oh, yes, that toilet was first class compared to some others I’ve had the misfortune to come across. It’s all relative 😉
I carry a large “hobo bag” style purse, in which you will always find a portable pack of baby wipes and a roll of toilet tissue, just for such similar occasions. 😉
I live in one of those ‘exotic’ places, what can I say 🙂
Ah, you always find the positive, in every situation, and I needed the reminder to do the same today. Thank you for another terrific story! 🙂
It certainly sounds different!
Ha, ha, why is it that expats discussing less developed countries always end up talking about toilets, lol? I personally credit my expat experiences with giving me a bladder (and will) of iron! 🙂
A bladder of iron is a wonderful asset to have. May you never need Depends 😉
I once ate at a restaurant in Guatemala that was a shack behind somebody’s house. The toilet was a hole in the floor of a tiny lean-to on the other side of an onion field, and there were good-sized cracks in the slats to let in light. They served another obviously useful function too.
I yearn to go to a restaurant like one of those, and $3 is a great price.
In Tokyo, there was an Indian restaurant we used to go to which was the real deal. I don’t know how they managed it — the Japanese are extremely picky about hygiene — but this place had holes in the wall with noisy little mice families in them. Which may not have been the reason why the food was so utterly delicious, but whatever the case, we still remember it fondly.
3 bucks That’s not too bad. I really enjoyed your story You are a wonderful writer dear. It looks you had a lovely time except for the toilet part as I am not keen on dark small places. Groetjes marja