Being Vegan in Ghana, West Africa

Eating in a foreign country can be a delicate process. As you travel to a new part of the world it is incredibly important to watch what you eat in order to avoid getting sick. If you stick to this mantra, “cook it, peel it, or don’t eat it”, then you should be ok. Right?

Well considering my diet is typically 70% raw fruits and vegetables this makes eating in another country somewhat difficult. Being vegan, I pay close attention to what I consume. If you are unaware, a vegan is someone who does not eat or use animal products. In the United States it is quite easy to live this way and I encourage others to adopt this lifestyle. However only 1% of the world’s population is vegan and most of these people do not live in the third world. When I discovered I was traveling to Ghana, I knew I would need to be careful about what I ate as my diet would become greatly restricted. I did some research before I left the United States but I did not find much information about being vegan in West Africa. If you’re a vegan and are planning a trip to West Africa, then this information may be incredibly useful for you!

mango, fruit, ghana, africa

Why did I travel to Ghana? I am an amphibian biologist and I am the Advisory Committee Chairman for SAVE THE FROGS!, a non-profit organization dedicated to amphibian conservation. Ghana’s frogs are under serious threat from habitat destruction, pollution and pesticides, and from over-harvesting for the frog meat and frog bait trades. With so many factors contributing to the decline in amphibian populations, on April 11th, 2013 I traveled to Ghana to meet with politicians, tribal leaders, and academics in order to further SAVE THE FROGS! GHANA message of amphibian conservation. I gave presentations to hundreds of people around the country to grow Ghana’s network of students, academics and biologists interested in amphibian conservation efforts and worked towards the creation of the Atewa Hills National Park, home of the critically endangered Togo Slippery Frog. I taught field courses to undergraduates, advised the students of our five university chapters in Ghana, and assisted with Save The Frogs Day events.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food
One of our campaigns, “So NO to Frog Meat”, provides alternate livelihoods to villagers in order to reduce the over-consumption of frogs in northern Ghana.

Taking it to the street: What is that and can I eat it?

During my time in Ghana I was always on the move. Therefore most of my food came from markets, street vendors, and shops. I’ll be honest, some days I ate nothing but bread, peanut butter (called groundnut paste), and bananas. These items were cheap and easy to eat on the go. Plus I did not have to question whether or not the food was vegan. As I was only in Ghana for one month I feel I barely scratched the surface of things I could have eaten while in the country. Luckily I have friends in Ghana and they helped me find food to eat. One of my friends explained to me that most Ghanians are mostly vegan, but they do not realize it. There are many varieties of food to eat, but you just have to find them!

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

While in northern Ghana I saw a girl walking by with a box of strange, brown cubes. Perplexed I inquired to her what the food was and to my surprise, it was fried tofu! They call it “soya” and it is commonly sold in any street market. The soy beans are created very similarly to tofu but the meat is a bit firm and chewy. The golden in rule while being vegan in Ghana: When in doubt, simply ask and you will be rewarded with the information.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

In northern Ghana the food is considerably heavy. Meals usually consist of meat from some animal, yams (or cassava), spices, and lots of bread. Therefore my food choices were limited as I discovered there was not much for me to eat in restaurants. When I saw these wonderful women selling mangoes, I seriously lost myself! While purchasing mangoes I started to get really excited and photos started being taken. The wonderful mango lady wanted to have her photo taken and I was happy to oblige! I am still so excited about this discovery. How do they taste? They are sweeter than any candy and the texture is better than any cake, pie, or custard combined.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

On the street you can also find avocados (called pears), bananas, plantains, fried yams, pineapples, and much more. Look around and you are bound to find something to eat.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

So, can’t find food? Then just find fruit! So what about Breakfast?

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

In the morning you will see many people sucking a corner from a bag of this brown liquid. It’s porridge! It is spicy, sour, and may be considered an acquired taste. However it is very common on the street and it is totally vegan.

The bread? Some bread might have butter or milk in it, so look for tea bread! This bread contains no animal products.

At the Restaurant: What can I order?

When I had time to visit a restaurant I found that most of the food was already pre-made so my options were limited on what I could eat. Therefore I found the need to be flexible and have patience.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Vegan cakes, freshly brewed coffee, and a fruit smoothie. Paradise, right? You can find such delicious treats at Baobab Vegetarian Moringa Restaurant in Cape Coast. Being a tourist destination, Cape Coast caters to those preferences of western civilization. However you are truly dreaming if you plan to eat like that for the rest of your time in Ghana!

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

If the restaurant has a menu, you may be lucky to find some vegan dishes. Here are some examples of dishes that can be eaten by vegans:

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Red Red: Fried plantains, beans, and spices. Delicious and commonly found in larger cities and towns.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Yams and Palava Sauce: Palava Sauce (also called Palaver Sauce) is a mixture of greens, palm oil, onions, and meat. In Ghana, this dish is also called Kontonmire, Kentumere, or Nkontommire, named for the leaf of the cocoyam (taro) plant which is used for the greens. It is possible to find this dish without meat, as pictured above, but you have to ask before you order. It should also be understood that food is prepared early in the day, so substitutions may not be possible at restaurants. Depending on who cooks it, there may be fish in the sauce. Ask about fish before ordering! Fish is not considered meat in Ghana and sometimes is offered to unaware vegans or vegetarians.

Jollof: Not pictured, but this is rice mixed with spices. It is very similar to Spanish rice. It is important to ask if there is meat stock added to the rice.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Banku: Banku is a combination of cassava and corn flour that is formed into a ball. Normally banku is served with a stew that contains meat. To avoid the meat, order the banku and ask for a side of beans, plantains, or soya. Banku usually comes with pepper (the red sauce pictured) and shito sauce.  Pepper is quite spicy and consists of onions, chiles, and tomatoes. The shito sauce is not vegan! It contains fish or shrimp. Try not to be offended, push it to the side, and keep eating.

Note: Most restaurants are very happy to accommodate your diet and will cook specially requested items for you.  For example, in the photo above there is some soya (fried tofu) next to the banku. I bought this on the street and brought it into the restaurant for them to cook. I have also had restaurants cook canned baked beans, peas, etc.

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Fufu: The holy grail of my culinary quest in Ghana! Fufu is a stew that contains a ball formed from cassava and plantain flour. The stew typically contains meat, tomatoes, onion, and spices. I heard about this interesting dish before arriving to Ghana, but unfortunately I could not find any vegan fufu. One day I stumbled across Saarnak Vegetarian Food and Health Shop in downtown Kumasi and I ate so many bowls of this delicious dish. Using your hand, you soak up the stew with the ball of flour. It’s really good so be sure to try it out!

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

When you visit Kumasi, you must see the Saarnak Vegetarian Food and Health Shop. The woman who owns the place has been vegan for 30 years and continues to promote a vegan lifestyle in her community. At Saarnak they hold educational events on why it is important to be vegan and how people can make the transition easily. How to get there? I have no idea what the address is but it is across the street from the post office in downtown Kumasi. It is very close to the “European Markets”. Once you get to the post office, ask someone where is “Saarnak Vegetarian” and they will tell you!

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This is a sticker outside the restaurant. ❤

Thirsty with your meal? Try a bag of water.

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Many restaurants around the world serve you water with your food, but in Ghana the water quality is so poor that even locals do not drink tap water. At restaurants you are often served a bottle or a bag of water. Obviously this has a disastrous effect on the ecosystem as disposal of these bags is not effectively executed. Not sure how plastic harms the environment? Find out here.

Lastly, in Ghana there are about 49 different languages but the most commonly spoken languages are English and Twi. So, after you’ve ordered your meal and eat, please remember to say medase. Pronounced “meh-daa-say”, it means thank you!

Ghana, Africa, Travel in Africa, Vegan, Veganism, Vegetarianism, Vegetarian, Animal Rights, Fufu, African Cuisine, African Food

Now that you are prepared to be vegan in Ghana, eat up! Thank you for your interest in traveling to Ghana and thank you for being vegan! Medase!

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31 thoughts on “Being Vegan in Ghana, West Africa

    1. Thanks! I was only in Ghana for one month. There is a good chance that I will go back in a year or two.

  1. I enjoyed reading this! I agree, you can always find something to eat as a vegan in Ghana, more so than many other African countries. I spent time in Ghana working with street children thus it was extremely difficult to turn down food that had been so generously offered to me by the most poor people and children due to it containing meat or fish. I usually just said that I wasn’t hungry. It was a real battle in my mind for a while but I finally made sense of it that I wasn’t being a hypocritical snob – actually being a vegan is more beneficial to the poorest people of the world, especially after reading Viva’s Feed the world guide http://www.vivashop.org.uk/books/feed-world-guide
    It’s actually not too hard to eat balanced in Ghana, even on the street you’ll always find peanuts for protein and an abundance of fresh and delicious produce!
    Poppy 🙂

    1. Totally! Thank you for sharing your experience. I will have to check out that book.

  2. Loved your post! I am currently in Kenya, Africa for a month as well and was worried about what I would be able to eat as a vegan. And I was worrying for nothing! I have eaten the most amazing meals of my entire life every time we sit down! Im going to be sad to come back to American food.

  3. Being Ghanaian although raised in Canada for 30 something years….even I learned something new reading your blog. Didnt know there was such a thing as a Ghanaian vegetarian restaurant or that ANy ghanaian had a keen interest in saving animals! Will most definetely look it up while I’m in Kumasi. i know exactly where to find it. i beleiev its near the barclays bank in Adum and where there are a lot of cultural item vendors?? thanks for your blog!

    1. Thank you for your reply! Saarnak is right by those cultural vendors. I hope you like the food! 🙂

  4. Loved this post. Am a Ghanaian and have lived in Ghana my whole life till August last year when I came to grad school in New York. I’ve been a vegan for 3 years (so I became a vegan before coming to the US). Veganism/ vegetarianism is becoming more popular in Ghana these days because people are realizing that it’s a healthier alternative. I myself became vegan after listening to a Ghanaian herbalist who used to advocate this lifestyle on tv & radio. Like you said, most Ghanaians eat mostly vegan without realizing it & so it’s very possible to live a vegan lifestyle in Ghana once you settle in. It was actually easier for me to be vegan in Ghana than here in the States because organic fruits and veges are more expensive here (they’re cheap in Ghana) & most meals here are meat-based or have some animal product in them (cheese, eggs, milk or butter). I miss Ghana so much and a vegan restaurant there that I used to eat at every lunch called ‘Asaase Pa’ & located at Accra High Street. For just GHC4 ($2) I could get a full lunch plate & desert! Oh & PS: thanks for reminding me of Ghanaian tofu aka soya! Wish I’d learnt how to make it before leaving Ghana since regular tofu is too soft for my liking. Medaase (ie: Thank you. Hope you learnt a few twi words while in Ghana? 🙂

    1. Medaase! I appreciate your comment! I am also happy to hear about more vegan Ghanaians! When I go back to Ghana I will be sure to check out Asaase Pa.

  5. I’m off to Ghana for 3 months in a few days. I’m vegan and have been worrying about my diet out there. Found this really helpful, thankyou 🙂

  6. When I was working in Ghana for 3 months all of my friends ate what is known as Soya there. I was told it was Goat by many people.

    Kalisha

    1. Hi Kalisha,

      The soya I found in Ghana was definitely created from soy beans. Interesting that people told you it was goat meat!

  7. Thank you so much for your post! I recently moved to Ghana, and I’ve struggled a bit finding foods other than fresh fruits and vegetables!! Great resource!

  8. My husband loved the Red-Red (called this because the ripe plantains are called “red” and the red palm oil they use with the beans).
    We lived in Accra, Ghana for 2 years (2006-2008) and absolutely loved their food. We went from vegetarians there to vegan eventually during our time there. We found it easy to eat there even while vegan. Dairy was easy to avoid there. It was easier with our own kitchen too. Glad to hear that your travels went well eating on the street, even though you may not have gotten your 70% raw foods.
    We have also been to some wonderful vegetarian/ veggie friendly restaurants while in Accra. I remember getting pineapple juice at one neighborhood restaurant thinking that it would come from a bottle, until we heard the whirring sound of a juicer! They were full of surprises as you found. We were also able to find Chinese and Indian restaurants to eat at occasionally, since we lived there.
    I started a blog while there (http://veganfootprints.blogspot.com/) and journaled about a day spend with our “soya” lady, since we adored the soya kebabs as well (here: http://veganfootprints.blogspot.com/2008/07/making-tofu-in-african-village.html). You might find it interesting to check before your next trip to Ghana, which I see may be soon (search “Ghana” at the blog for other interesting stories about the food and culture while you’re checking it out). We used to get the starch foods on the street and then make (or find) a vegetarian stew.

    You should put these foods on your list to try next time if you haven’t already:
    1. Kenkey (another starchy food, similar to Fufu), especially good in Cape Coast. I remember they sold it in blue bags there at the time.
    2. Kelewele (“Kill-ee-Will-ee”, a fried plantain snack usually available in the evening after dark, very spicy from hot pepper and ginger),
    3. Wakye (“wa-Chee, if you can find a meatless version, sort of a layered type rice and beans dish with cooked and raw foods together),
    4. grilled items, such as: grilled plantain, corn on the cob (it’s not sweet though)
    5. boiled corn on the cob (again, not sweet, but you’ll get some delicious fresh mature coconut on the side to eat it with),
    6. fresh young coconut (someone will open in for you, then you drink the “water” out of it with a straw, you hand it back to the vendor, and he will open it up for you and you can then proceed to eat the young coconut “meat” out with the top of the shell. YUM!
    7, You didn’t mention it, but I would be surprised if you didn’t try the plantain chips. The dark ones are from plantains that are more ripe and tend to be sweeter. The lighter ones from unripe plantains and are a bit more like thick potato chips. If you are lucky, you may find some other root veggies prepared the same way into chips.
    8. Tiger Nuts (trust me, not an animal product at all), these can be eaten raw and usually are sold this way
    9. Boiled peanuts (groundnuts), of course best still warm.

    If you are wondering about anything of the above, just check over on my blog.

    Enjoyed your post today. Medase!

  9. Hi Loretta,

    Thank you for your message! It makes me incredibly happy that you read my post. So, on a side note… I did try tiger nuts! I remember the experience quite clearly as the nuts were not too tasty but I understand they are a local delicacy (for viral purposes of course). Regardless, it was an interesting experience! I can only imagine the food I would have discovered if I had stayed longer. Thank you for going vegan in Ghana!

    Cheers,
    Michael

  10. Hello,

    i am volunteering for a year in Ghana and am here now for two months.

    I was delighted to find your article! Thanks a lot!

    Of course there are also vegan options available, but I find myself eating quite unbalanced these days. Very often I eat just plain rice. Often fruit for breakfast or porridge. But here there is just no great variety of vegetables (basically its tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, onion, eggplant) and I can not really find my greens!

    At home I am a hclf (high carb low fat) vegan, so all the oil here everywhere is just really annoying. Even in rice they put oil.

    So yes, you can always find good, ripe fruit and let them chop it up for you, and rice and banku. But there are almost no whole products, always white rice, white bread, etc.

    But still thanks for your article!

  11. This is amazing! I never expected to find a vegan story about Ghana (I searched for vegetarian in Ghana hahaha). I went to The Gambia last summer and already found that it wasn’t that difficult to eat vegan, though a lot of people found it hard to prepare something for me because they didn’t always understand the concept. Now that I know what’s common in Africa (also thanks to your great post) I can’t wait to eat vegan in Ghana this summer! Loving the yams, rice and flour dishes, oooh and the spicy spinach sauce! ❤
    Abaraka baake! (Gambian for 'thanks a lot')
    Medase!

  12. Thank you, you make my day because l am trying to be vegan myself but l did not know what to eat.

  13. Thank you for visiting my country and shining a positive light on our vegan dishes. I had no idea that Ghana had vegetarian and vegan restaurants. I will be sure to visit them when I visit again.

    Slight correction: Fufu is the pounded cassava or plaintain. The liquid sauce you had with it could have either been light soup, peanut butter soup, palm nut soup etc. These are known as soups rather than stews. I believe you had light soup also known as Nkakra. It looked delicious! 😋

    I am also glad that you noticed that shito is NOT VEGAN. Good call.

    I can’t wait to visit Ghana 🇬🇭 again.

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