Do you know your waakye from your fufu? Or your Jollof from your red-red? Not a worry. Here we lay bare the secrets of Accra's best local food and tell you where to find it. The bottom line – it's a fulfilling proposition, and your stomach will love you for it.

Within the cramped confines of the pale green food stall are various glass-topped pots and stainless steel bowls filled with ingredients for waakye. Auntie Muni and another men are preparing portions for waiting customers. Outisde its windows you can see automobile traffic in the street © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet
Auntie Muni's weekend food stall in the Labone area of Accra is renowned for its

If you like tomatoes, you'll like Ghanaian food. No matter if served in a 'chop bar' (a simple, local eatery), a big dining hall or a restaurant cooled by air-conditioning, traditional local dishes are nearly always based around sauces, soups and stews containing lots of the round red vegetable that was brought to the country during colonisation. As a result, even medium-sized supermarkets boast at least two metres of shelves laden with different brands of tomato paste. There is a caveat however: you'll also need to enjoy the generous use of chillies (they are equally omnipresent in dishes here).

Pieces of meat or fish in the stews and soups take care of the protein side of things, while local starches such as yam, cassava or plantain are patiently pounded and cooked to deliver carbohydrates (and provide some relief from the chilli-induced heat). Globalisation has made rice-based dishes and fried chicken more popular in Ghana, especially in cities such as Accra, but even these will not be served without at least a dip of… you guessed correctly... tomato and/or hot chillies.

Waakye: all you can eat

In its simplest form it's just a mix of beans and rice, but there are often so many sides added to waakye (pronounced 'waa-che') that in reality it turns into a filling, all-in-one pot. Don't be surprised to see gari (cassava powder), stewed meat or fish, fried pieces of kelewele (plantain), salad, shito sauce (made of chillies), dried fish and even spaghetti in it. Waakye is most often prepared by women who cook all the ingredients in the early mornings and then sell it on the street, wrapped in banana leaves or given out in a take-away box. The most famous such seller is Auntie Muni whose stall in Accra's Labone area attracts former presidents, football stars, expats and countless other Ghanaians.

 Flanked by a bottle of tomato ketchup, a square plate is laden with a neat cylindrical pile of yellow Jollof rice, two fried chicken legs, a salad and small plastic container of chilli sauce. Taken at Frankie's © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet
Fast food it may be, but the fried chicken and Jollof rice at Frankie's in Accra's Osu area is a timeless West African feast © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet

Fried chicken & Jollof rice: a modern favourite

Chicken used to be reserved for special events such as Christmas dinners, but economic growth has made it one of the favourites at almost every local restaurant. Ghanaians like their chicken marinated with peppers, then fried and served with a side of Jollof rice. The latter is a tomato-flavoured, slightly spicy rice dish so popular all over West Africa that Nigerians and Ghanaians regularly argue over who cooks the better tasting version.

Chicken and Jollof can be found everywhere. One great (and air-conditioned) place to try it is Frankie’s on Oxford Street in the neighbourhood of Osu. This is one of the oldest fast-food style restaurants in Accra, and the menu offers everything including continental and Lebanese dishes, but there is nothing like tucking into hearty Jollof while observing the hustle and bustle unfolding outside the big windows. Frankie's is also open to midnight, so it's a great place to fill up before a big night out.

Within a green-rimmed white bowl (on a red table cloth) is the traditional dish of fufu. Sitting in reddish light soup is a ball of yellowish dough made from cooked (and pounded) plantain and cassava. Next to this sits some goat meat and bones © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet
The legendary dish of fufu, here served in 'light soup' (read tomato soup) with goat meat at Asanka Local © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet

Fufu & soup: use your fingers

If Ghana was only allowed one national dish, it would have to be fufu. Plantain and cassava (sometimes yam instead) are cooked and then pounded until the dough has the required consistency to be moulded with your right hand into a palatable portion that can be easily dipped into one of the many soup variations on offer. Two of the most famous soups served with fufu are groundnut soup (based on peanuts) and 'light soup', which is rich in tomato and often with goat meat.

There is no better place to indulge in this national dish than a traditional dining hall in the heart of Osu. Sitting on a plastic chair in the vast, canteen-style Asanka Local, washing your hands in a plastic bowl and then dipping your right hand's fingers into the fufu offers a deep dive into Ghanaian culinary culture. Top it off by taking a sip of a Star or Club beer or a non-alcoholic malt drink.

Floodlit, yet feeling dark, the confines of Chez Clarisse Mama Africa in Accra. A waiter in a white t-shirt leans over the red-and-white chequered tablecloth to place a dish of fried tilapia on the table © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet
The dark and atmospheric confines of Chez Clarisse Mama Africa, a Ivorian restaurant known for its fried tilapia © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet

 Tilapia & banku: for fish lovers

Despite being situated directly on the sea shore, the most common (and also most popular) fish to eat in Accra is the freshwater tilapia. Caught or bred in the Volta River and lake of the same name, the whole fish is either fried or grilled (the tastier and healthier option) and then served with a side of banku, a pasta-like mass cooked out of fermented corn and cassava.

One of the best grilled tilapia and banku dishes is served at the Ivorian restaurant Chez Clarisse Mama Africa in Osu, where it's adorned with a mix of diced tomato and raw onions and served with a pepper dip on the side; the tender fish meat is best reached using your fingers.

A close-up of the local dish red-red, a combination of fried plantains and stew made from black-eyed beans, palm oil and tomatoes. Atop the stew are some raw rings of onions and a sliced tomato © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet
Served up at Buku, a plate of fried plantains and stew made from tomato, palm oil and black-eyed beans: together, these dishes are known as red-red © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet

Red-red: basic but tasty

This simple stew is based on black-eyed beans that get cooked in palm oil and tomatoes. It's topped with fried plantain pieces, which are shimmering red and the reason for the second 'red' (the tomatoes being the first). Ghanaians – especially the working class who can’t spare hours for preparation – love street food and red-red is probably the most popular such offer next to waakye. Ask Ghanaians in the area you stay for the best vendors, or if you are less adventurous or like a bit more comfort, try the red-red at Buka in Osu, which is one of the most popular places for expats who like Ghanaian and Nigerian dishes.

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One Airport Square, a new building in Accra that looks like an uneven stack of cards, with each card supported (and separated from the next) by a jumble of massive concrete tootpicks © Elio Stamm / Lonely Planet


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