Food, whether in the form of wings, leaves fins or roots is associated with most festivals. For instance, Dzenkple is related to Hogbetsotso; Rice water with Aboakyir and Totokpakpa finds space with the Agotime Kente Festival. This association between food and festival is either borne out of the need to feed guests with a local cuisine or it is an intricate part of the festival. Totokpakpa is linked to both. In fact, long before today’s chef’s began celebrating the idea of fast food, the people of Agotime have put together the best healthy fast food: Totokpakpa. It provides a warming sustenance in a serene setting far removed from any gourmet restaurant. This iconic dish began as a quick fix to the hunger of many traders and Kente weavers.
The ingredients of Totokpakpa connect the scenic topography of Ghana with its thin slimy thread. Let the “Keta school boys” caught in Keta and the smoked herrings from Ningo-Prampram take a head start; tell the people of Vakpo to give us some garden eggs; add the onions Anloga and tell our neighbours from Ziope to drop some fresh pepper; don’t forget the main ingredient: okro from Agotime; we won’t mind to garnish it with dzomi from Kpedze if need be. But the picture will be incomplete without koobi and a little salt from Ada. Then, join the taste buds of all the festival guests to that of the local folks and let the trembling earth resounds with verve and energy because Totokpakpa is on the way.
Totokpakpa is filtered through centuries of history and the secret of preparing this delicious food is by respecting its entire preparation cycle. It was created like an ancient opera: an Agotime maiden is the conducting master chef. She chops off the head and tail of each piece of okro and leaves two knife marks at the back of the remaining part. Then the adagio in which the finely diced onions and garden eggs raise the tempo with descaled smoked herrings and beheaded “Keta school boys”. Joining the fray in full allegro are blended ginger and pepper. As the hands of the conducting master chef move in quick stirring motion, the ingredients follow one another with two or three minutes between them into the measured boiling water in the saucepan. The half boiled okro is removed and beaten in earthenware and added back in a minuet of lowered heat. Maggi cube, descaled koobi, little salt and dzomi (optional) follow by further lowering of the heat to preserve the vitamins, proteins and organoleptic properties. It takes less than 15 minutes to be ready.
The results when fetched onto a plate gives off a subtle, savoury aroma that soars wonderfully through the nose to trigger salivation. This brings one to the grand finale: the triptych. This triptych is called “eworkple” in the slimy green ensemble of vegetables, where the broken softy fish drenched in a trailing slime of the okro makes its journey down ones throat into the abyss. The second part of the triptych is when Totokpakpa in the most evocative and memorable way plays the starring role as the soup that can go with eworkple or banku. This brings back the fullest expression to the essence of the taste of Totokpakpa.
When the food tastes good everything else fall into place.
Authored by George-Grandy Hallow (Ph.D.)