A Coeliac’s Story of her Challenges Worldwide ICS Placement
For the past 8 weeks, I have been living in Accra, Ghana with Coeliac disease. Here are five nuggets of wisdom I can pass to you about going gluten free in Ghana.
A quick disclaimer before I start:
Before leaving the UK, I had a parcel of food delivered to the staff office in Accra. I ordered the food from the UK using Amazon Pantry and Challenges Worldwide was wonderful enough to send this box out to Accra. The delivery was seamless and easy to collect in country. This was set up as a backup plan in case I experienced any difficulties. The parcel contained breakfast cereal (x4), oats (x2), 6 packets of biscuits, bread flour (8 weeks in and I have yet to make any bread) and pasta.
I have found gluten free food around various Accra malls (Shoprite, Maxmart, Marina mall etc.), but these are expensive for what you get, sometimes out of date – and, as they’re not always restocked, not very reliable. I personally found getting the food couriered much more convenient. If I were to do it again, though, I would adjust what I packed slightly. Cooking in 30-degree heat every day is not fun! The pasta and bread flour, for example, were not as useful once out here. Also, because 90% of the Ghanaian diet is naturally gluten-free, I never found cross contamination to be an issue. However, there were limited options to eat western foods out at restaurants.
Here are my top tips for going gluten free in Ghana:
- Generally, Ghanaians do not see dietary requirements as a health issue
I’ve been here for two months, but still find myself having to explain my diet requirements to everyone. There is a misconception here that dietary requirements are just an excuse for you to be a picky eater. It can be a little frustrating at first, but if you cook your own food and bring a packed lunch whenever you think you won’t have access to gluten free food, you’ll be fine.
- Pack LOADS of snacks and bring cereal and/or oats
Even if you don’t snack in the UK, you will crave snacks here. I only packed one flavour of biscuits and cereal bars, and wish I’d brought more. I am craving crisps more than anything, as most crisps here have wheat/gluten in them.
I brought a bunch of Eat Natural cereal bars as midday snacks when I am out and about. These have been great too. The only downside is that you need to store them in the fridge because the heat melts the bars so they become very malleable and warm.
- Locating gluten free food in Accra
I have managed to locate gluten free in a bunch of malls and supermarkets – however, you won’t always find the same stock in the shop. If you are really craving gluten free food (i.e. biscuits, pasta etc.) head to Maxmart – I even found crème eggs there last week! The only thing is that Maxmart is more of a premium supermarket (think M&S or Waitrose) so the food is pricey – however, it is the only place you can score free cheese samples!
Checkout glutenfreeroads for a directory of shops and restaurants that stock gluten free food
- Living in Ghana has made me appreciate the beauty of potatoes
One of the things I was surprised to discover was that no one eats potatoes in Accra. According to Google, sweet potatoes are a big thing in Ghana – unfortunately not in the South, though, where I am spending my placement
After 5 weeks of no potatoes, you will discover just how wonderful these overlooked gems are. I have never loved chips more than I have out here!
- What I eat in a typical week:
Breakfast: Part of my food parcel contained four boxes of breakfast cereal and it lasted me for six weeks. I think it was one of the best things I brought with me as it made for a very easy and quick breakfast option. Finding a substitute for breakfast foods is where you might struggle to find a gluten free option that tastes somewhat familiar. There isn’t much fresh milk – we use powdered milk – but don’t worry, you get used to it. However, I recently ran out of cereal so now I eat gluten free oats every morning. The others in my host home typically eat oats, tom brown or fish paste toasties (don’t feel like I’m missing out there). One weekend, the UK volunteers got together and made pancakes (glad I brought flour with me) and a fry-up for brunch.
Lunch: Normally, traditional Ghanaian food is gluten free e.g. Waakye, Chicken and Jollof rice, and Red Red with fried plantain. I’m sure there are many others, but these are the most common ones I know. I brought lots of pasta with me, so occasionally I cook lunch at home the night before and pack it with me before heading to work.
Dinner: In the Nmai Dzorn host house, we typically eat rice or yam with a fish and/or chicken stew – all of which is gluten free. The only time I have used my stock of gluten free foods is when I am missing home comforts. Most of the other host homes eat similar foods – although, rumour has it our host home mum cooks the best food!
So, don’t worry: going gluten free in Ghana is not as difficult as you’d think!
Just remember to pack LOTS of snacks and keep an open mind to the local cuisine.
Written By Tanmeet Panesar