Every country has a staple food that is readily available and easily prepared without a problem. Such staples could be found in every home. These staple foods are also less costly and never run out of stock and production. They are very useful as snacks or full meals depending on how they are prepared and ingredients used.
Some countries have rice as their staple food, others have corn and Cassava among many others. Research conducted by Adebayo and others in Quality management manual for the production of gari, indicates it is the most prevalent cassava meal in a number of West African countries. Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria seem to be the main producers and consumers of gari, as well as exporters.
Until a few decades ago, this popular produce and derivative of cassava was a staple diet among the Ewes of Ghana, Togo and Benin as well as the people of Nigeria, in combination with cooked beans, which in Ghana, gained the name Yor-ke-gari (beans and gari), from the Ga language.
Recently, Gari has gained some international recognition due to a video on social media, which advertises a Chinese-made processor with capacity to extract all the derivative products of cassava at one-go. Again, a well-packaged gari product, made in China, recently hit social media with comments on China competing with in the export of agricultural products that hitherto came from Africa.
Typically, gari started as a staple of lower working-class people in the cities who could not afford anything else because it was cheap, readily available and matches with many ingredients for a whole meal, beverage or snack depending on the combination. Narrowing down to Ghana, Gari has been known as a ‘companion’ of school children and students in boarding house. For this reason, it is called Students’ Companion. The high point for gari is its versatility, availability, coupled with easy and long-lasting preservation without going stale or flat.
Others refer to it as a life saver because gari can be located in every home and readily available to save emergency situations when there is no food available. Gari can be prepared at home or purchased at the market, the retail shops or anywhere processed food items are sold.
GARI MAKING PROCESS
Gari is a grainy flour made from the roots of cassava. The cassava is peeled, washed thoroughly and then grated. The grating process is what gave the name to gari, a corrupted form of the Ewe word ‘Gali’ used for this popular food staple – short for Ga-lili (process of grating on a metal grater).
For domestic consumption, the ordinary blender comes handy for use in making gari at home. It is blended with addition of a little water to make it fine. It is then put in a cloth and squeezed to get the water out. A different method is used for commercial production. The cassava is peeled and washed after which it is sent to an industrial mill; after three to seven days (allowing for fermentation) and draining of water from the milled dough, it is now placed in a machine to squeeze it dry of starch and water.
Once the dough has been squeezed dry, it is now time to put it on fire to be heat roasted over high temperatures in an open roasting pan.
The dough is scooped into the roasting pan and finely spread to avoid lumping. It is stirred continuously to ensure an even roasted colour – off-white or a tinge of cream. It is deemed well done once it attains a crispy state and all the moisture is completely dried out. The gari is allowed to cool and then packaged in sacks for the market.
USES OF GARI
Gari has gained entry into Ghanaian mainstream meals and comes in many forms. It is a non-negotiable part of school provisions for students and pupils in boarding school where it can be prepared with addition of water into doughy solid and eaten with canned fish and ‘shitor’ and is ready in a matter of anything between 3 to 5 minutes depending on how hard or soft one wants it.
In school parlance, gari is also known as ‘grains’. Again, a mix of gari and shitor within the schools system is known as ‘gas’; with water, milk and sugar, it is called ‘soakings’, a term, which is equally applied to a combination of water, shitor and any canned fish. In first case, the term is qualified by ‘liquid’ while the latter is known as ‘solid’.
Groundnuts may be added to ‘liquid’ for extra taste.
‘Eba’ is the name of a popular Nigerian dish made from gari and eaten with ‘agusi’ stew. Gari is added to boiling water and stirred into a thick consistent mass, which is rolled into balls. Eba can also be eaten with ‘ogbornor’, and okro. Gari in any form can be eaten with any other soups or stews; with beans and fried plantain, it is popularly known as ‘gobe’ or ‘gravels’; ‘Gari fotor’ is also another gari meal, ranging from a mix of gari and bean-cake with pepper and oil to a mixed-vegetable version or just oiled gari that is combined with waakye as a garnish. The versatility of gari, its reliable prevalence, combined with its easy and long-lasting preservation ability makes it, possibly, the most useful staple in all of Africa.