How To Eat Fufu

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.

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