In Ghana, the banana is eclipsed by its larger, more fibrous cousin, the plantain. It is one of Ghana’s main cash crops and a large portion of it is consumed locally. It is also a staple in Ghanaian diet.
Virtually every restaurant that I have been to in Kumasi serves fufu, a local dish made from pounded yam and plantains. On my morning commute to work, I see countless street vendors selling roasted plantains from their makeshift grills to hungry pedestrians looking for a quick bite. There’s also kelewele – deep-fried, golden-brown pieces of plantain in a fragrant mix of spices that are gloriously crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
As for my fellow interns and I, plantain chips are the best thing to chew on in the absence of potato chips and nachos. Plantain chips are thin strips of boiled plantains fried to a crispy perfection.
They come in two varieties; the ones made from raw plantains are salted and golden yellow in colour while the ones made from ripe plantains are a darker shade of brown and taste slightly sweet.
At almost every traffic stop in Kumasi, there would be swarms of head porters selling a myriad of things – apples, frozen yoghurt, meat pies, spring rolls, towels, cell phone credits, ‘pure water’ – and there are always at least two or three of them selling plantain chips. A single pack weighs about 250g and costs 50peswas, roughly equivalent to 32 cents.
Getting your hands on a pack of plantain chips isn’t that hard, even if you are in a vehicle. In fact, the ubiquity of head porters in Ghana seems to serve the sole purpose of catering to the needs of hungry motorists. Every time a traffic light turns red, you will see a group of head porters systematically working their way down the rows of cars, minivans and trucks, shouting out their wares in near-harmony. All you have to do is stick your hand out of your car window, summon a head porter with a wave and say, “Plantain chips.” If they happen to be selling something else, they will summon the plantain chip-seller for you. It’s that simple.
Watching a mid-traffic exchange of goods and money, though, can be nerve-wrecking. Oftentimes the light would turn green, the vehicle would start to move while the head porter would still be counting out the customer’s change. There have been instances where it looked as though a vehicle would drive away before a plantain-seller would get her* money, but that has never happened yet. The buyer and seller always manage to conclude their transaction before traffic resumes its speed.
Like I’ve said before, even though the whole arrangement seems chaotic to me, it is a system that works. Traffic keeps moving, head porters are able to sell their goods and hungry motorists get fed.
*I use ‘her’ since all the plantain chip-sellers I’ve seen have been female.