As adventurous expats, most of us learn to enjoy some of the food that is on offer in our new habitats. Not all the food, mind you. In Ghana, West Africa, I found it a challenge to eat snail stew. Snails the size of Italian salamis are for sale by the road from vendors with large head pans full of the squirming critters. Still, no matter how well we foreigners in alien lands adapt, most of us will continue to have cravings for foods we grew up with, like sauerkraut, Marmite, or Twinkies. Me, having grown up in rainy Holland, I crave good sharp cheese and heavy, crusty bread. When we first arrived in Ghana, this kind of bread was not easy to find. The story below recounts my efforts to obtain my daily fix. And if you wonder about the photo, yes, I baked that bread. In some places, baking your own bread, is the best way to go.
OF GOOD BREAD AND BAD GUYS
Without bread, all is misery. – William Cobbett
Let us consider bread. I like the thick, crusty, brown variety you can sink your teeth in. The Ghanaians favor the airy, anemic white bread introduced by the Brits during colonial times. They sell it everywhere, including by the side of the road. In some places, stall after stall is stacked high with identical big loaves of nutritionless fluff bread. Vendors will jump in front of your car and wave a loaf at you as if you hadn’t noticed them from half a mile away.
I do not buy this bread. Some of the shops in Accra also sell Middle Eastern flat breads such as pita and lavash because of the big Lebanese population that has lived here for a number of generations. Delicious, flavorful bread, but it’s not the comfort food from my own European cultural heritage.
What I really crave is the heavy crusty bread made with whole grain flours, so one of my first missions upon arrival in a new land, is to locate a reliable source. In Accra this is the German Bakery, as I found soon after moving into our new house.
Map in hand, I struggled through narrow, potholed streets and managed to find the modest establishment. However, I did not find bread. It wasn’t sold on the premises, I was told, but every morning the lot was sent fresh from the oven to Ghana Groceries, not far away.
This was not good news.
Ghana Groceries is owned or part-owned by Libyans and they are Bad Guys. The United Sates has not yet — at the time of this writing — lifted the trade embargo on Libya and all expatriate Americans in, or connected to, government service are instructed not to spend their money in businesses owned by Libyans. My intimate relationship with such an American obligates me to honor that directive as well, which generally is no hardship except when you get between me and my bread.
I told the Ghanaian baker of German bread my plight and he sighed sympathetically. I was not the first person to tell him this sorry tale, but fortunately he knew the solution. I could place an order any day and pick it up fresh early the next morning right there at his politically correct bakery.
So this is what I do and it works well. I buy a number of loaves at a time and freeze them in my big American freezer. They’re still warm when I pick them up and you should smell my car. I could get high on the fragrance of warm bread.
Then one Saturday morning, a dusty harmattan morning when the sun is barely visible through the haze of Sahara sand, my mate GD and I are a little late and the baker has taken our bread along with the rest to Ghana Groceries. I try not to let the panic take over and drag in a deep, calming breath, inhaling, no doubt, millions of Sahara sand particles. What to do?
To my great relief, our friendly Ghanaian baker of German bread comes up with the solution: He will go and rescue our bread for us himself. So we pile in our little Kia and he directs us the back way to the Bad Guy store and instructs us to park in a cluttered alley behind the building. This so no one from the Embassy might see us. He slips out, furtively looks left and right like a bad actor in a cheap spy movie, and rushes into the back door in search of our fix of Country Wheat, Sour Dough Rye and Mixed Seed. We stay in the car, out of sight. GD and I look at each other.
“Good God,” he mutters, “you’d think we’re doing a drug deal.”
Oh! How I know the longing for heavy brown bread… In NYC I quickly located the Polish bakery (a 5km bike-ride), and in Beirut the alternative bakery (only 3kms away). Like your ‘drug-deal’, I’d do almost anything for good bread…
If ever you’re in a place where you need to bake your own bread, let me know and I’ll send you the recipe for the no-knead bread I often bake, the one on the photo. Heerlijk!