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Cooking in Tamale

 Food culture

In Ghana, you always cook a little more than you need for your own family. After all, you never know who will drop by and you always need food for unexpected guests and people coming in to greet you.

  In Tamale, cooking is mainly done on firewood, charcoal or gas. In 2010, a study was done into the ways Ghaneans cook, including people in the Northern region of Ghana, with Tamale as its capital. It was found that 77% of people cook on firewood, 17% on charcoal and 3% on gas, showing an increase -compared to previous years- of gas and charcoal. Small percentages can be added for other kinds of fuel. People also use waste material of crops, like maize stems, and on a very small scale kerosene and electricity are also used for cooking.

Soup of the day....   Cooking for a wedding....

Charcoal is popular because it can also be bought in small portions, relatively cheap. If you don't have a lot of money, it's convenient to buy just enough to be able to cook with for the day. Firewood must be bought in relatively larger quantities and gas is simply more expensive, even if it was just for the investment of buying a gas cylinder and a gas burner.
Gas has only been used for cooking for a few decades now. It's a new thing that many people have to get used to. It's not considered safe, and in fear of gas explosions people rather stick to the good old cooking on charcoal or wood. Besides, cooking on gas is usually done inside, while social life takes place outside, in the courtyard. And on top of that, cooking outside is much more comfortable because of the heat indoors. Imagine adding the heat of cooking to that...

Even if you do cook on gas, you still need a stove for charcoal or a fireplace. Gas is not always available in Tamale, so every once in a while you still need an alternative. And as there are regular power cuts, even households cooking on electricity often need to switch to charcoal or wood.
But that's not the only reason everyone uses charcoal and firewood. There are many traditional recipes that simply must be cooked on coal or wood. The main reason for this is the way the food is stirred. T-Z (which stands for Tuo, ‘food’ and Zafi, ‘hot’) and Banku, for instance, need to be firmly stirred for quite a while. Not just by letting the spoon float around lightly, but vigorous stirring, without stopping. It's hard work, and to keep the pot in place, iron rods are attached to the pot's handles. They come down to the ground, and the woman stirring places her feet on them firmly, to stop the pot from toppling over. This obviously can't be done with a gas cooking range.
Besides, when you cook for many people, in pots big enough to hide in and with spoons the size of oars, where else to put your pot but between a couple of heavy rocks, over a fire of wood?

T-Z, cornflour with water, is Dagomba food par excellence.

For a wedding, you need loads of food. It's incredibly heavy work.   You don't have to do this alone: women take turns stirring.....

There seems to be plenty of charcoal and firewood around. You can buy it at every street corner or from the women who sell it by going from door to door. They carry huge piles of dishes with charcoal on their heads, or large bundles of branches. Lorries full of fire wood arrive in town daily, from all corners of the country. There's never a day without charcoal or fire wood... but for how long yet?

For the traditional way of cooking, you need firewood every day.   Woman selling wood


 Woman and cooking

It's the women who get up before the break of day to light a fire and prepare food all day long. You'll only find women in the cooking area, because here in the north of Ghana cooking is a woman's business exclusively. Many women also have to earn an income, in addition to raising kids and running the entire household. Not an easy task.