Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An Honest Discussion About Momoni

There is a uniquely Ghanaian experience that is likely widely shared by every lower middle class Ghanaian girl (and a few boys). This experience is that of being sent on an errand to the market with a list that includes almighty momoni, a fermented fish popularly used as a seasoning for many Ghanaian sauces (often called stews) such as nkontomire stew and okro stew. See here for the chemical composition of momoni. Whilst almost every Ghanaian girl who is being "properly brought up" (Invariably this training involves learning to cook so that someday, she can win her way into a man's heart through his belly) has had to buy momoni or koobi at some point in her life, no one provides us the requisite skills to accomplish the task. Our parents are clearly not aware of our big problem with momoni, and to be fair, I never complained to them about it when I had to buy it so how would they know, seeing as they do not feel this discomfort themselves - I swear that on at least one occasion I witnessed my mom and her friend heartily bossing (chatting) whilst she was in the process of buying the fish! Shiee!
No guidance being offered, I had to devise my own strategy for purchasing the "goods" during my teenage years. These strategies and skills which I'm about reveal are time tested, proven and necessary for buying good momoni on the Ghanaian open market. Those who don’t know better might think that “good momoni” is an oxymoron as momoni is fish that is nearly- but not quite- rotten. However, any good Ghanaian woman knows that there are many grades of momoni and each has her own way of discriminating among the options to pick the best. Now imagine a shy high school kid in one of the better high schools in Ghana, say Wesley Girls High School, Presec, or Motown who has little interest in picking up a nickname. Such a kid had better pay close heed because for her, this skill is not only useful, it is crucial! I can’t imagine a SOS or GIS kid buying momoni. Well, I can, but charley, that kid would need this skill even more than I did as the stakes would probably be higher. But of all the kinds of personalities who may need this advice, the most important group are those girls, who like me were loud and known. Imagine if this filla (juicy piece of news) spread, charley!!

Preparing and Summoning the Chutzpah

The first step is to check if there is momoni or koobi listed when your mom prepares the market list for you. If theres isn't, sigh deeply and sing halleluya to whichever god you worship. If there is, well, shit happens, and as we like to say in Ghana, "a blow inevitably yours..." so brace yourself for the task ahead. Then decide whether you will go to your mom’s favorite momoni seller who will in all likelihood engage you in conversation and increase your chances of being found out or if you will play it safe and go to a new momoni seller where the transaction will be brief. If I were you, I know which I'd choose.


Next, proceed to the momoni seller, stand there long enough and pay close attention to the momoni so that you can select one that your mother (or whomever sent you to the market will like), pay for it, collect your change at the same time keeping a close watch around you lest a big-mouthed class mate should spot you buying the “bad meat” and broadcast it to the hypocritical masses, who will at that time titter and laugh communally that you- insert name here- was bargaining for momoni in the market. You are a dead girl!


Once the purchase has been made, give your surroundings a quick look over and walk briskly away, never looking back. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. Should someone later claim to have seen you, deny it. Simply deny it...*sing to the tune of Shaggy's "It wasn't me" ...

saw you buying momoni in the market

wasn't me

i even saw you pick out the good one

wasn't me

even caught you on camera

wasn't me.

Mission accomplished, breathe easy, buy the rest of the items on your list and go take your tro-tro home. Later that day when you’re enjoying the tasty garden egg stew that your mother made with the momoni, you may go for a second helping. Afterall, having risked your reputation to get that stinking piece of fish, waaalahi, you deserve seconds.

I haven’t eaten momoni or koobi in the past 6 years and I’ve been fine. I didn’t miss it. My mom claims that stews do not taste nice without it and I grant that her stews are tastier than the ones I used to make in the US but i'm reluctant to attribute that difference to the presence or absence of momoni alone. I suspect it is because the vegetables in Ghana taste better as they tend to be fresher and more naturally grown than those in the US but the jury is still out on that matter. The main question I have today is what is the future of momoni? Let's see where we've been, where we are, and where we're headed by looking at our parents generation, our own generation and our kids generation. For each generation, I'll try to predict what future I see for momoni.

There is no doubt that our parents' generation, especially the village born- village reared ones, is very koobi and momoni loving. Such people will never reform ( i use this word in jest)- save for a heavenly intervention- to become non-koobi eating types. If this generation felt uncomfortable about buying it, because they love it, they would have figured out a way to reduce the stress involved in its purchase. For example, they might have found a better (hygienic, non-smelly, attractive?) way to produce and package momoni and koobi. (Un) fortunately as I have earlier mentioned, our parents are fine with buying momoni as it has always been so they have no motivation for improving it. The result is that they cannot dream of the emergence of a momoni industry so big that we begin to export it to far flung places like China? I'm thinking of the Chinese because we're increasingly doing more business with them but also because they too have some interestingly offensive smells coming out of their kitchens. I can see them getting hooked on momoni. So as far as our parents' generation is concerned, the way I see it, momoni shall remain as it is.

What about our generation? I'm not quite sure how our generation, especially the city born, city reared types feels about momoni. I can't say conclusively whether we love it or hate or don't really care. I wonder if we love it but pretend we don’t. Or maybe we concede that there is some flavor to be derived from it, but insist that that benefit is not worth the odor and/or the hassle involved in buying it. Is there something great in momoni that our parents see but that we simply do not get because we don't give it a chance or is it just a stinking piece of sodium-laden fish that our parents for whatever reason are attached to? How would we know? I don't remember ever having a conversation with anyone about it. Isn’t it funny too that more of us have had the uncomfortable experience of buying momoni in the market but somehow we all bear it and never talk about it but people in high school always talked about how they went to Frankies? I know my mom never sent me to Frankies but I sure did do the market trip a number of times. What is it exactly that makes buying momoni embarassing to me but not to my mom? The verdict? Our generation shuns momoni or pretends to. Since we don't care about it, it has no place in the dreams of the girl, now woman, who wields the power to create that industry.

Will our children have to learn the art of buying momoni? Since their parents (my generation) aren't going to be demanding it, my answer is "not likely". I don't see that my kids-if I ever get around to having some- ever need buy momoni because I don't derive enough satisfaction from it to warrant its purchase. Well, that is unless something happens to change my position now that I'm back in Ghana. Assuming that momoni indeed died out, would its demise (i use this word to influence your answer) be seen as be good riddance to a shameful past or the loss of yet another very Ghanaian thing and therefore a plight to bemoan? I'd be interested to know what you think and please share any momoni or koobi related toli's you may have. Oh yes, you may respond anonymously :)

Disclaimer Please note that all this holds true only for the people like myself, that is, village-born, city-reared, lower middle class, who is able to achieve some real or imagined higher standing in society thanks to ease of class mobility in Ghana and uh a lot of hard work, and lots of breaks in life. My village born and reared colleagues are probably even fonder of momoni than the Nzema man likes his morning akyEkE. [AkyEkE is similar to couscous and is often mixed with palm oil to give it a pale yellow color, and eaten with paya (avocado) and a fish named Ewura Afua]. For them, momoni liveth on. Viva!

* Photo credits:


  1. I love the way you write Esi its so humourous descriptive and informative.
    While ive only been to Ghana once you bring it all back to life for me



  2. Loool....Esi you're splitting my sides. You wouldn't believe how i found your blog but that's adifferent story. I guess you wouldn't dare attribute the great tasting stews your mom made to the "unholy" fish but well the truth can't be denied. You wouldn't believe how many cartons of koobi i had to unload with my uncle last summer to be sold in ghana stores around the u.s. Those who already lived in ghana before coming to the u.s definitely can't live without it. except of course the college kids who can't afford to have some one see them unleash its power when they cook.