For any reader of West African literature, or for any Western penpal of a Ghanaian student, a question looms large:
What the heck is “Fufu”?
Here is the short answer: Fufu is delicious, and it is also extremely difficult to create.
Here is the long answer:
Fufu is an extremely popular and common food in West and Central Africa which is made in slightly differently ways in different countries, and is even connected to the classic Caribbean dishes, mofongo and mangu.
Fufu originated, however, in Ghana, and the Ghanaian version of fufu is made by pounding cassava and unripe plantain together, adding water.
When Millicent asked me this morning “What will you take for lunch?” I eagerly suggested fufu. Alas, I did not realize the physical toil this request would incur upon my friends!
Millicent laughed when I gave my suggestion. “I just hope Oliver is home from class,” she replied.
“Huh?” I asked, “Why do you need Oliver?”
Ten minutes later, Oliver had been torn away from his Economics homework and thrust onto a bench outside with a giant pole between his hands.
Unripe plantain lay in the large wooden bowl, and Millicent’s skilled fingers darted under the rhythmic “BAM!” of the pounding stick to fold over the dough and sprinkle in handfuls of water.
“Wow…” I sighed in awe.
Once the plantain had been turned into a yellow dough from its beating, Millicent set it aside in a bowl and began to add the boiled cassava to be smashed. The pounding began again.
After a time, Oliver asked, “Want to try?” His lips curled into a barely-suppressed grin.
“You bet!” I sauntered over to the pole, confident in my strength and coordination.
“Boop,” went the pole into the cassava, barely making a dent in the dough.
“Harder!” yelled Millicent. “Pound it harder!”
I tried again. “Shlurp!” Went the pole, splashing doughy water onto my pants. “Argh!” I wailed, trying again. “Blat!”
By this time, Oliver was laughing so hard it was difficult for him to take photographs. “Let me take over again,” he giggled, running over.
“Save me!” I wailed, handing him the pole with gratitude.
“I’m impressed,” I sighed, walking back into the house to hand-wash the rest of my clothes, badly.
Pounding fufu, hand washing clothes, eating with my fingers… these are all skills I’ve barely practiced in my twenty-eight years! I’m like an infant learning everything afresh, awkwardly.
And then lunch was ready! We all scurried to the table, drooling with expectancy. Oliver was still sweating when he arrived.
“Are you exhausted from all that pounding?” I asked. He and Millicent had been working with the dough for over half an hour.
“No, no,” my friend laughed. “We are all used to doing it since we were small. Everyone always tries to run away from their pounding duty their whole life. When it’s time to pound, everyone vanishes! But when the fufu comes to the table to eat, everyone comes sprinting back!”
Millicent appeared in a swirl of delicious-smelling steam and placed the bowls on the table, along with a bowl of water and a bottle of liquid soap for washing up.
Mmm! The downy soft fufu was peeking up beneath the red groundnut soup, just calling to us: “stick your fingers in me and slurp me up!”
And so we did. Ahhh! Part of the delight of Ghanaian cuisine is the soft, tactile caress of eating with your hands, as the flavors dance upon your tongue. It’s a full-body experience!
“This was so much work for you, but it’s so good!” I gushed as Millicent came back in the room.
“Cooking is not hard if you know how to do it,” Millicent replied.
Apparently, some people nowadays create fufu via packaged, no-pounding powders, or by using electric food processors. But would that shortcut really taste as amazing?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!