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I Meet the Ghanaian Yam

I Meet the Ghanaian Yam
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  • I Meet the Ghanaian Yam

    Post #1 - May 13th, 2005, 8:48 am
    Post #1 - May 13th, 2005, 8:48 am Post #1 - May 13th, 2005, 8:48 am
    I Meet the Ghanaian Yam

    Of all the major culinary traditions of the world, the one least known to me is that of Africa. Aside from a trip earlier this month to African Hut in Milwaukee, and an occasional stop at Mama Desta’s, I can’t say I know this food at all.

    Last week, at the Kejetia Supermarket, I ran into a Nigerian guy I always see at the local Y; later, while bathing in the hot tub, I queried him about the foods he purchased there, and he said he especially liked the yam. Just boil it, he said, and douse it with hot sauce. Sounded good, carb and heat, and I made a mental note.

    So yesterday, I went back to Kejetia and bought a big old brown, elephant-skinned yam from Ghana ($1.63/lb.). It was one strange tuber, and my youngest daughter seemed frightened by it, so after chasing her screaming around the house with it for a while, I skinned it, cut it into cubes, and boiled it with just a little salt.

    It was the starchiest thing I have ever eaten. I slathered it with butter, but as my daughter said, “it seems like you can’t get enough butter on it.” The Ghanaian yam is one dry vegetable.

    The flavor is very mild, slightly nutty, and with a feathery inner texture a bit like halvah. In its massive starchiness, it reminded me a little of the thick doughy Bohemian dumplings I loved as a kid. It’s not at all astringent, but when you eat it, you can feel all the moisture in your mouth being sponged up.

    I ate it with a load of butter. I ate it with a load of hot sauce, including several types of shito (still sitting in labeled lab sample containers in my refrigerator, a gift of ReneG – and continually horrifying to the kiddies and random guests who poke into my larder).

    Overall, the Ghanaian yam needs much more liquid to be palatable. I believe the traditional preparation for this and other yams is to put it in a stew; a large quantity of moist meat sauce is just what this tuber needs.

    Kejetia also offers bitter leaves, yellow gari, amala, ogi, agushi, kenkey, fufu powder and phone cards.

    Kejetia Supermarket
    7608 W. Madison
    Forest Park, IL 60130
    708-366-8195
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #2 - May 14th, 2005, 2:50 pm
    Post #2 - May 14th, 2005, 2:50 pm Post #2 - May 14th, 2005, 2:50 pm
    David,

    When I was in Ghana, I only ate yam in it's processed form (Kenkey and Fufu). People do you use the yam in soups and stews, but I found the Kenkey and Fufu preparations to be as ubiquitous as bread is to Americans.

    To make fufu, the yam (or cassava) is boiled first, and then pounded with a pestle of sorts until it is a gluey mass, formed into blobs and steamed for a few minutes. Kenkey is a fermented version of this dish. I think that the fufu powder that you mentioned is just yam flour or cassava flour, a modern day convenience for those who aren't interested in pounding tubers. :shock:

    After eating fufu or kenkey with just about every meal while I was there, I have to say that I never acquired a taste for it.

    ReneG introduced me to a market on South Commercial, La Fruteria, that carries prepared fufu and kenkey in it's refrigerated case--in case anyone wants to try it.

    La Fruteria
    8909 S. Commercial Ave
    708-768-4969
  • Post #3 - May 16th, 2005, 11:25 am
    Post #3 - May 16th, 2005, 11:25 am Post #3 - May 16th, 2005, 11:25 am
    David,

    Our rather inexperienced tour guides when I was in Africa kept warning us about leaving the van and mixing with the locals. I rember one day after growing rather weary of all of the fear mongering... I jumped out of the van and just headed down the road. The first stop I bought maize roasted on the cob, it is a bit starchier than corn, and you flicked kernals off and ate them like corn nuts.

    The next stop, was a little shack where they were making some of the most delicious smelling french fries. The young boy tried to sell my $1 worth, but his mother said I only needed about $.25 worth. They were cassava and were cut like steak fries. Because of the high starch, only the very outside seems to retain any oil. The inside was almost fluffy.

    Both were really great snacks and bring back memories. I was not sure if you had cassava or not...but then TP confirmed. In parts of Africa (I was only in the East) the word "yam" can mean many types of food, or a gathering to eat food.

    pd
    Unchain your lunch money!
  • Post #4 - May 16th, 2005, 11:54 am
    Post #4 - May 16th, 2005, 11:54 am Post #4 - May 16th, 2005, 11:54 am
    pdaane wrote: I was not sure if you had cassava or not...but then TP confirmed. In parts of Africa (I was only in the East) the word "yam" can mean many types of food, or a gathering to eat food.


    pd,

    I don't believe that what I had was cassava.

    They do sell cassava at Kejetia, but when I asked the nice Ghanaian man behind the counter about the name of the yam I had just bought, he wrote down the word "bayare" (he said he was guessing at the spelling). I have searched for this yam name but have turned up nothing. My guess is that it is a Ghanaian word, and there are no doubt many types of yam in Africa, right?

    Those fried yam slices sound good. Next time.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #5 - May 16th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Post #5 - May 16th, 2005, 12:19 pm Post #5 - May 16th, 2005, 12:19 pm
    Cassava paste is a staple in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, including East Africa where it has various names, including ugali though that word us. connotes boiled corn meal. The Ghanian yam is just that, a true yam that is used as a primary starch along with cassava and plantain.

    Similar forms in the Carribbean are Dominican mangu (mashed boiled platanos), Cuban fu fu (mashed fried platanos, sometimes with cracklings), and Puerto Rican mofongo (mashed fried platanos with cracklings and lard). IME, the Dominican staple most closely resembles starches as served in Africa, simple and incredibly bland. Mofongo is a major improvement. Fu fu is in the middle.

    In the Caribbean, a yam that is similar, and maybe the same, is name'. Along with maize, boniato, platano, yuca, malanga, soaked tasajo and other stuff, name' is an ingredient in that most African of Cuban dishes, ajiaco. Goya sells a frozen ajiaco/sancocho mix. They have it at La Unica, por supuesto. Ajiaco is about the best thing you can do with these tropical starches, if you know what you are doing. My mother in law makes one hell of an ajiaco.

    Name' and probably your Ghana yam, like cassava (yuca) need some serious cooking time, and might succumb easiest under pressure. Old yams, like old cassavas, are more likely to be skunked and terminally chalky, though it is next to impossible to tell from the outside. There is a word for this, which I always forget. Frozen are more of a sure thing. I enjoy these tropical starches, but they are rarely handled well by commercial kitchens.
  • Post #6 - May 16th, 2005, 2:03 pm
    Post #6 - May 16th, 2005, 2:03 pm Post #6 - May 16th, 2005, 2:03 pm
    trixie-pea wrote:David,

    To make fufu, the yam (or cassava) is boiled first, and then pounded with a pestle of sorts until it is a gluey mass, formed into blobs and steamed for a few minutes.


    I did not mean to imply that yam and cassava were the same thing. Rather, I meant both items recieve the same basic preparation. Sorry for the confusion!
  • Post #7 - May 16th, 2005, 2:13 pm
    Post #7 - May 16th, 2005, 2:13 pm Post #7 - May 16th, 2005, 2:13 pm
    No, its my confusion...maybe. I did a quick google and read a story where cassava was also called yam. Now, I am not really sure anymore, but I do recall yam being several different foods.

    Ugali was present at almost everymeal....tasted a lot like grits to me. We picked greens out of the ditch to mix with the ugali at one stop.

    pd
    Unchain your lunch money!
  • Post #8 - May 16th, 2005, 2:58 pm
    Post #8 - May 16th, 2005, 2:58 pm Post #8 - May 16th, 2005, 2:58 pm
    mmmmmm....ditch greens........
  • Post #9 - May 16th, 2005, 3:04 pm
    Post #9 - May 16th, 2005, 3:04 pm Post #9 - May 16th, 2005, 3:04 pm
    trixie-pea wrote:mmmmmm....ditch greens........


    Ha! Yes, that was quite an image pd conjured for us! :lol:

    Incidentally, Trixie-pea, they do sell bags of kenkey at Kejetia. Both times I was there, they had bags of them, each bag about one foot long and one foot wide, containing six, leaf-wrapped keykey servings, each about the size of a grenade. I was not sure how to prepare these, but I'd assume you can steam or boil them, kind of like tamales.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #10 - May 19th, 2005, 2:04 pm
    Post #10 - May 19th, 2005, 2:04 pm Post #10 - May 19th, 2005, 2:04 pm
    Hammond,

    Was the Ghanian Yam you met anything like this baby?
    Image

    Maybe less hairy by the time it got to the store? This is the elephant's foot yam. One of the multiple ways to enjoy it is to boil it a bit (or a manageable chuck) and then cut slices that can be fried in a little oil to get a crisp outer crust (with/without spices).

    Cassava/Yucca Root/manioc is also boiled and then spiced etc.

    These aren't African treatments
  • Post #11 - May 19th, 2005, 10:38 pm
    Post #11 - May 19th, 2005, 10:38 pm Post #11 - May 19th, 2005, 10:38 pm
    sazerac wrote:Hammond,

    Was the Ghanian Yam you met anything like this baby?


    sazerac,

    Thanks for the pic, but the yam I had (and all the others in the box with it) was more cylindrical, though a little bowed out at the center, not at all hairy, and a little darker in color. Next time I go back to Kejetia, I'll take a pic.

    To render the yam edible, I ended up going to Tropical Taste on 1st in Maywood, and got an order of curry goat with extra sauce -- back home, I cooked the yam with the saucy goat, rendering it much more interesting.

    Hammond
    “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV?”
  • Post #12 - June 28th, 2009, 3:15 pm
    Post #12 - June 28th, 2009, 3:15 pm Post #12 - June 28th, 2009, 3:15 pm
    Okay!
    first things first!
    I am a Ghanaian and i've lived in different parts of Africa and I would like to clarify a few things.
    I'm sorry if this appears a little pretentious but yam is one of my favourite foods and I also hate people having misconceptions about my country and my continent. its like someone thinking every American is white or all pizza is on a thin crust.
    There are many different kinds of yams in every part of Africa. Bayare is the word for yam in twi, which is a ghanaian language and its not the name of a specific yam.
    Some of the names of yams that I know are puna, punjo & water yam, among others. I don't know very many though. Cassava is NOT a kind of yam. It is a tuber just like yam but it is not yam.
    Secondly, kenkey is NOT made from yam. It is made from maize/corn (they're the same thing. just different words, maize being the british word, i believe).
    pd, what you had was fried yam, which is the equivalent of french fries and which i love. Just like you describe, they are crunchy on the outside and almost fluffy on the inside.
    now yam refers to the food.
    'nyam' means 'to eat' in parts of west africa. in eastern africa, nyama is meat in swahili. it is often grilled and eaten in large gatherings. that's the only explanation I can think of for yam being used for a gathering. but then my swahili is limited.
    Yam can be cooked in a variety of ways: boiled, mashed, fried and depending on the kind you have, it tastes better.
    Puna, for example, is excellent which ever way it is cooked, but water yam isn't very good boiled or fried but it good mashed. it is best eaten with a sauce though for those of us who love yams, when you find a good yam, you can eat it cooked without a sauce.
    In ghana, boiled yam is often eaten with garden eggs/eggplant stew or spinach stew. garden eggs are a type of eggplant which I am yet to find in the states. they are of a cream colour and taste quite different.
    when fried, they are often eaten with shito( spicy fish sauce) and/or with a fresh salsa-like sauce made with fresh chillis, onions, fresh tomatoes.
    when mashed, they are often eaten with soup and the mashed yam is cooked in a specific way.
    I think that's all i've got to say but please feel free to ask if you have any questions.
  • Post #13 - June 28th, 2009, 6:20 pm
    Post #13 - June 28th, 2009, 6:20 pm Post #13 - June 28th, 2009, 6:20 pm
    Thank you for the enlightening first post, dotdotdot; I hope you'll stay and participate in other threads in your areas of experience and expertise.

    Do you have a connection or previous visits to Chicagoland? If so, I'd be curious about your favorite dining experiences here (in all cuisines), and any additional insights into Ghanaian cuisine in the Midwest, whether in homes or in restaurants. If not, please feel free to share any international impressions of Chicago cuisine, or let us know a recommendation or two in Accra (or elsewhere); we love building the knowledge base.

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