This is a loaf of banku, a mash that looks a lot like fufu, but is subtly different.
Fufu can be made from plantains, or it can be made from cassava (a/k/a yuca or manioc). Either way it’s boiled, kneaded, and pounded till the starch achieves a bouncy and utterly agreeable consistency. When you get your ball of fufu in an African restaurant, it will likely be steaming hot and wrapped in clear plastic. It’s up to you to play hot potato with it, juggling and wincing as you peel off the wrapper.
Fufu made from mashed plantains is slightly darker than the white and off-white of other mashes.
The fufu at Mataheko – the subject of this week’s Counter Culture review – is made from plantain. But fufu is only one of the so-called “mashes” that form the starchy center of Ghanaian cuisine. Pounded yam is the rather prosaic name for a mash made from a white sweet potato much beloved in coastal West Africa. It achieves the same bouncy texture, but an even blander flavor, than fufu.
Banku is composed of fermented manioc meal that’s been rehydrated, and then beaten to a fare-thee-well. But that’s not the end of it. The white rubbery loaf is allowed to ferment for a couple of days, leading to a sour and funky flavor. You’ll love it or hate it. Kenkey is like banku, except it’s made of cornmeal and especially prized by fishermen.
Then there’s plakali, ebaa, garifoto, and a handful of other mashes, all based on various forms of cassava and cassava meal. Unique among mashes, perhaps, is omo tuo, which consists of rice pounded until you can barely see the grains.
This is pounded yam. It bears a certain unmistakable resemblance to Moby Dick.
The rice mash called omo tuo arrives immersed in its mixed-meat peanut soup, rather than wrapped in plastic.
To eat a mash like fufu, pull off pieces with the fingers of your right hand, and then dip the wad deeply in the soup that you’ve chosen to go with it. These soups are most often based on meat, fish, vegetables, okra, peanut butter, palm oil, ground-up melon seeds, sweet potato leaves. A combination of meats, poultry, and fish is called mixed meat.
You can dip and re-dip gobbets of fufu until your loaf is exhausted, and still not get to the bottom of the bowl. That’s because back home a bowl of soup might be shared by several people, each with his own loaf of fufu. Such is the abundance of the New World that we each get our own, and it’s more than enough.
The meat, too, often seems to be used in abundance, but without preference for one form or another. That’s because flesh is scarcer in West Africa than here. Accordingly, when your fufu is done, picke up a spoon to finish as much of the soup and meat as you want.
Or simply order another loaf of fufu. Your waitress will be impressed.
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Okra soup has an engagingly slimy consistency that makes eating it with fufu a greater challenge.