Why kokonte is facing the wall

Kofi Akpabli

There are issues concerning aspects of our culture that colonialism and our religious experiences have stigmatised. There are also things which we have blacklisted because... well we don't really know. The story of kokonte is one such matter. Though the eating of kokonte is quite common in Ghanaian traditional and contemporary society, the less one talks about its image the better.

It is neither the most popular dish not everyone's favourite. However, kokonte is a delicious, satisfying staple much like banku, fufu and akple. In the drought and famine days of the early 1980’s, a lot of Ghanaians survived 'by the grace of' kokonte.

As happened, the types of cassava that were available were only good for this dish. Today, those who patronise kokonte claim the food has received a raw deal. To them, the dish deserves more credit than it currently receives.

But there is an interesting twist.

Give the average Ghanaian a behind-closed-doors treat of hot kokonte with groundnut, palm nut or okra soup. The beneficiary is likely to come out all sweaty and gratified after having swallowed everything and licked the fingers properly.

Suggest to this same individual to serve kokonte at his own birthday party and the excuses would begin. Kokonte thus brings out the double standards in us. What really is the issue? How come kokonte suffers such public scorn? Why does it have all the names that are derogatory, djidji, lapiiwa, abetie. Why is it nicknamed “face the wall?”

For definition, kokonte is pounded dried cassava that has been prepared like banku. Also known as 'Chris Brown,' the powder used for it is as smooth as talcum. As a result, it ends up being elastic and smooth like fufu. Indeed, in many ways, kokonte bridges the gap between banku and fufu. But there is another thing, its dark distinctive colour.

Perhaps, that is what makes it the black sheep of the Ghanaian staple food range. Another reason is how a section of society sees it as food for the poor. Depending on how the cassava was dried, the shade after cooking could be anything from light brown to colour black.

But how does it fare as food?

Kokonte is smooth to cut and swallow. When served with the oil of the accompanying soup spread on top, if can be very tempting. Kokonte is easy to eat. In addition, it has the advantage over fufu of being easier to digest. Over banku, it has the advantage of being less heavy for the stomach. In terms of preservation, kokonte lasts far longer in the fridge than fufu.

One important point is that compared to banku and fufu, kokonte takes less time to prepare. Kokonte is versatile. It can be eaten with soup, gravy or raw ground pepper (as with kenkey). With only soup to go with, fufu, for instance, cannot functionally compare. Because of its character, kokonte offers a strategic bridge between banku and fufu. In terms of nutritional value, it is not any poorer than these carbohydrate counterparts.

To crown it all, kokonte is the least expensive main dish to prepare for the family in Ghana. This was established after assessing a list that includes tubers, banku, fufu and rice. In an economy where the cost of food overwhelms the average family's budget this is a useful piece of statistics. Needless to say, the dish presents food security options to our policy makers.

In today’s world of environmentalism and recycling, dishes such as kokonte stand to receive advocacy. Kokonte may be said to come from, recycled cassava. In other words, kokonte by essence is to turn waste to usefulness. For instance, put together all the pieces of cassava that couldn't pass muster for fufu. Dry them over a long period. Pound them in a mortar. Grind them at the mill. What you have is kokonte powder that can make a family satisfied and happy for many Sundays.

But kokonte is not always from recycled cassava. Indeed, neither is it always dark. Modern techniques have made it more avant-garde. These days, the drying takes place in ovens and the colour has since become lighter. The powder is actually now well-packaged with some finding their way to the export market.

The binding property of the food makes it useful in the catering industry. Sprinkles of the powder are used in the preparation of other dishes and in baking. For commercial reasons, some cooks apply it to increase quantity. Sometimes, kokonte powder is used as an additive for kosey, kaklo and toogber. Kokonte powder also comes handy as an additive to groundnut soup.

The story of kokonte is the story of Ghana in her many crossroads encounters. Kokonte is more than a relegated food dish. It is a mirror showing us how we can despise our own self as a people. The challenge now is how to take kokonte off the wall and perhaps put it on an airline's menu. Art thou cringing?

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DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.