Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I’m supposed to, or rather, wanting to write about my amazing vacation in Burkina Faso and Mali, but I’m still processing how awesome it was. Therefore, I’m going to write a bit about food. The most frequent questions I get from friends, family, random people who read my blog and potential volunteers are about food. What do you eat? What do they eat?

Plus, honestly, food is one my favorite topics. I spend more money on food here than anything else, dream more about food I miss than anything else and just really enjoy eating. Luckily I also walk everywhere, do laundry by hand and carry water on my head so the effects of my affections for food are somewhat mollified. I don’t think I used mollified correctly, but I like it and you get the picture.

Breakfast, in my village, is the most exciting meal of the day; there are so many different possibilities. People I know eat the same exact thing for lunch and dinner, but breakfast, you never know. Volunteers call any food not purchased in a store or actual restaurant ‘street food,’ deeming everything I buy in village, street food. Afternoon and evening there are 1-2 options, but from about 7am to 11am there are SO many options. Just on my walk to school, I have the opportunity to buy multiple different types of fried dough, spicy African black cous cous, spaghetti with spicy red sauce, rice with spicy red sauce, rice with beans (not rice and beans, rice with a few beans mixed in), yam pile with sauce and porridge. I think that covers everything.

Since I noticed my daily fried dough getting to me, to my stomach that is, I’ve lately been eating oatmeal with a glob of African peanut butter (plain, real, sugarless peanut butter). It’s not delicious, but it actually keeps me full. If I go the street food route, I end up eating at school again at our 10am snack time break. On weekends I almost always get fried bean flour dough and porridge. I wish I could just eat that sugary, nutritionless porridge every day, it’s so addicting. Not many volunteers like it, I’m obsessed. It’s definitely a ‘poor people’ food and in my village you can get it breakfast or dinner and many, many people eat it. The first time I tried it I couldn’t finish my bowl, now I’m finished in seconds, wishing for more.

If I can’t get out of bed in the morning and consequently miss breakfast, I eat at school at 10am. We have ‘lunch ladies’ whom serve before school and at 10am break. I love yam ragu or African cous cous, or a combo of the two, and sometimes I add a certain kind of fried dough called pâté (not to be confused with pâte).

Lunch street food always includes rice and beans. Sometimes the buvette maman sells yam pilee, sometimes this one lady sells anyaya, there’s no name for it in English. It’s this gelatinous, bean and oil/lard flab thing with tons of piment (mouth burning spice used in everything), I sometimes buy 10 cents worth for my dog, he loves it. One of my favorite mamans sells rice and beans, always, without fail, she is there. Plus, there’s this kind of table thing and a bench under a tree where I sit and she always brings me water, almost feels like a restaurant. I almost always eat at her house on my way back home from school or on my way to school. She also makes a fiery red sauce so people can have their much loved spicy rice.

Most Beninese eat pâte or akassa (fermented pâte) with sauce for lunch, or spicy spaghetti. Pâte is a gelatinous white goo carb used to scoop sauce (sorry if that’s repetitive).

Dinner, I can find a few types of fried dough and porridge. Most people eat pâte with sauce or boiled yams. I usually try to make dinner.

I usually make American style red sauce with garlic, onions, tomatoes, sometimes tomato paste and a ton of random herbs, I change it up regularly. I eat that with boiled yams, rice or pasta. Lately I’ve just been eating yams plain, they’re so cheap. They taste almost exactly like potatoes, I just boil them and add salt. Occasionally I’ll dip them in veggie oil (a maman served that to me once, it’s delicious). If I’m really lazy I just make oatmeal or popcorn. I love oatmeal because it’s just boiling water, I love popcorn because I have a designated popcorn pot, so no washing haha.

Oh, I forgot to mention that all day long there is at least one woman (boutique maman) selling fried fish chunks. One chunk is 2 to 3 cents, and people eat this more as a snack, or add it to their sauce. Sometimes this older maman sells fried fish, if I pass her when she’s selling, I’ll buy 5 or 10 cents worth for my pets as a treat. Boutique maman sometimes sells other random fried meat chunks. Once, during a huge funeral weekend when there were tons of visitors she did chicken. If her brother shoots some random forest creature (usually rat), she’ll fry that up.

After trips to ‘big cities’ I love to indulge with laughing cow cheese. I’ll buy several wheels to bring home. The best thing ever is a laughing cow cheese grilled cheese sandwich. Even better is if I add basil (dried) and diced tomato. Sometimes I’ll add basil to the oil and heat the oil with it before frying the sandwich. I can often buy bread in a neighboring village on Wednesdays, too. Or, I can make macaroni and cheese, or someone just told me canned corn with laughing cow cheese melted in it is delicious, I'll try that this weekend.

In parakou, I can never resist getting chicken and fries, despite the steep price of $4. You get like half a fried chicken with a huge pile of fries, such greasy deliciousness. I also recently tried an actual restaurant in Parakou which serves a pretty good cheeseburger, $4 and garlic steak and fries (steak here is VERY different than over there), which is $6. If I’m trying to be cheap, I’ll just indulge by buying bread and some grilled meat, or bread and avocado which is slowly coming back into season. I LOVE an avocado and onion sandwich. I always always eat salad because the only vegetable in my village is onion.

Weirdest things I’ve eaten are probably snails, rat, forest rat and rabbit (different, but kinda've delicious). I’ve been offered bat and snake but successfully declined both. I’m sure I’ve eaten other weird unknown meat. Goat and sheep are really big here, I hadn’t eaten either before Africa, but it doesn’t seem strange to me now.

Ok, I hope I answered most questions, I can’t think of anything else to write. Beninese eat lots of carbs and I miss American food, that’s the moral of this story.

***The picture is some chicken and fries I bought in Bobo, Burkina Faso, with my favorite beer 33. It wasn't fried and was way more delicious than chicken and fries in Parakou.

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