Stephanie Czajkowski offers a guest blog here from her Peace Corps site in Burkina Faso. No clue where that is? Check out the map and then click here. And then, read away right here about "Food in Burkina Faso."(Thanks to commons.wikimedia.org for the map, which lets us all know approximately where this county is!)
First of all, there is no overly-processed food problem here like in the states contributing to the millions and millions of people with high blood pressure, obesity, increased heart problems, etc. You can find processed foods here: some cookies and crackers and the like, but it's not as commonplace nor are those things what people generally go for first here which I think is definitely a positive.
What is available? There are a lot of carbohydrates and wheats here which contribute to the ability to find many different types of flour: those made out of millet, maize (Yes, it is a type of corn,however, different; you cannot boil it or cook it and get the same results. No matter how hard you try, you will not get that soft chewy corn you have come to know and love in the US), wheat (although, the supposed wheat flour I bought did not look like any wheat flour I've ever seen, it looked just like the regular white flour you buy at a grocery store back in the states), etc.
One often bakes with flour, no? So, you can also find various baking materials, even though some are easier than others. Sugar is easy to find here and typically comes in one of two varieties: white or brown (And I don't think the brown is like brown sugar, I think it's less processed and comes more directly from the cane); I have found a powdered white substance in the one grocery store that exists in Burkina and that may have been powdered sugar, but the jury's still out. You can find baking soda, baking powder, and yeast as well.
Eggs are available here as well and are often much smaller and browner in color. (I was lucky enough this past week to receive a bag full of eggs as a gift and have thus been able to bake a little and experiment with egg preparation from omelets, scrambled cheesy eggs, to over easy [which ended up being more over hard – I need to practice not breaking my yolks] and hard-boiled.
Popular treats and snacks found here include a small variety of fried cakes and doughs: small ball-shaped fried cakes (gateaux), one type more solid and grainy, the other the consistency of cake; and galettes are often made when it's raining and it's the Burkinabé version of pancakes (They're smaller than US pancakes and thicker, too. Plus, instead of typically tasting sweet, there's often a spicy kick because pepper or piment (spicy pepper such as an habanero or chilly pepper grown here) has been added. They still taste really good. My host family made galettes with bananas.)
Oil. One thing learned in the past three months is that the Burkinabé love their oil. Usually it's the cheap, poor-quality vegetable oil, but again, if you search hard enough and know of the one grocery store in Burkina (Marina Market) and can get to a big city, such as Bobo or Ouaga, you can purchase olive oil and even have your choice between a few different brands. Oil is plentiful and inexpensive. If you go to the marché (market) where one goes to buy many food items, and other types of items as well, you will find large metal cans that look like those you've seen carrying a lot of car oil and those cans will have a small pump on the top where the vendor will put a sachet (small plastic bag) under the spout and pump as much oil as you want into the plastic bag before tying it off and handing it over. (Most things are sold using plastic bags here from the small black grocery-type bags used to purchase fruits, vegetables, grains, flours, etc. to the small clear plastic bags used to purchase oil, peanut butter, water, juice, etc.) Not only is it easy to find, but many Burkinabé put oil in most of their dishes. Instead of adding salt first as people do in the US, here one first adds oil and one adds so very generously.
Vinegar and salt are easy to find here as well, and salt is a very common spice added to most dishes as well. Luckily, iodized salt is sold here and many people use that. I don't think there is as big of a problem with salt here, because of the lack of processed foods, people aren't consuming massive amounts of sodium that shocks their system and increases their blood pressure among other physical problems.
Vegetables and fruits? Yes and yes, but it depends. It depends largely on one's location and the current season. Burkina has three main seasons: hot, hotter, and not quite as hot which translate to a warm season, a hot season, and a rainy season where temperatures a bit cooler (Each of these seasons is still very warm and during the warm and especially hot seasons, the temperatures rise above 100 degrees F easily.) The rainy season and therefore cultivation season is when the most variety and availability of fruits and vegetables is found. Some vegetables found here include onions (one can always find onions), beans (in Jula called s)s) [ the ) should actually look more like backward c's, but the shape doesn't exist in my openoffice character list], in Mooré they're called benga and are very common and easy to find), potatoes, patates (which are a cross between regular potatoes and sweet potatoes according to taste anyway), eggplant of the African variety (green and looks a little like a pepper and has a very bitter taste, not very good on its own, best in sauces) and the violet eggplant, corn or rather maize (which is prepared differently here: they often remove the husk and then grill it so the kernels have black in the middle. Then instead of eating it right off the cob, one holds the cob and picks off kernels with one's fingers before tossing them in one's mouth), piment (which as I said is hot peppers, typically habaneros and chilli peppers of the red and yellow variety. Piment is very popular and used in many dishes. It is dried and used as a spice and sometimes mixed with Maggi cubes to tone down the heat and add some more flavor. It is mashed up and made into a salsa-type sauce that can be added to taste to a dish, as well.), green peppers exist here and are often not as ever-present as the other types of vegetables, tomatoes, garlic, gumbo (which is a long, slender, octagonal, green vegetable used in sauces), and leaves (leaves of many different types and varieties are very popular here when making sauces. The only type that comes to mind right now is Baobab, but there are many. I learned of at least two different plants growing in my courtyard that can be used in sauces: one was a little plant with small round leaves and the other completely the opposite, big with large leaves where one leaf could make a sauce for an entire family and then some.) For fruits, the most common are mangoes, especially around the beginning of rainy season, aloco (African plantains), weda (the Mooré name for this sour orange fruit that when mixed with water and sugar makes the most delicious juice you've ever tasted), and bananas. You can also find applies (imported), oranges, limes (which are actually a cross between lemons and limes if you're going according to taste), pineapple, watermelon, papaya, an oval-shaped bright yellow melon... Other than the few popular fruits first mentioned, one needs to travel to a decent-sized city to usually find the other types of fruit. It is important to note also, that that the sizes of vegetable and fruits here are typically smaller than in the states. I surmise that is the case because people don't tamper with and biologically alter the chemical make-up of fruits and vegetables here which may make the flavor better. I noticed that onions are a lot stronger here, for example.
As for meat and protein sources of the like one finds mouton (sheep), beef, goat, chicken, and fish. It's important to specify what type of cut you'd like, because here fat is often included and consumed (During my first visit to site, I ate lunch with a group of men and lunch consisted of a plate filled with meat and fat with powdered piment and maggi to dip it in. And there was a lot of fat making it difficult to find a piece of meat without a chunk of fat attached). If you get fish it is of the dried or bony variety and you spend much time picking out or crunching on fish bones, whichever you prefer. If prepared well and if a decent type of fish, it can be quite tasty. (I recall my host family preparing a fish fillet, bones included of course, with cut up cucumbers and onions on top with a light sauce perhaps made with mayonnaise and water.) You can also find sardines in a can which taste good – they're not salty like the sardines supposedly are in the states. They remind me of canned trout you can purchase from Trader Joe's (ah, Trader Joe's...) You can also find tuna here, but it's expensive (hence the reason I prefer to receive it in packages sent from the US!)
earlier that carbohydrates are commonplace here and include rice, couscous,
pasta, spaghetti, and most importantly tô. Tô is the staple food here and is
often made from millet, but can be made from rice and other sources as well, I
believe. Tô is as if someone were trying to make porridge and left it cooking
for too long and ended up with one solid mass that is slightly gelatinous. The
flavoring is very bland, but one typically eats it with a sauce.
Usually, for a
meal here, one prepares a starch or carbohydrate such as tô or rice and a sauce
to go with it. Both are kept separate until joined on each individual's plate
(I made macaroni and cheese for my host family and kept the cheese sauce
separate from the macaroni, so they'd be more comfortable with it). Although
there are dishes like rice and beans or riz gras (riz = rice; this is a dish
where one prepares the sauce, then adds the rice and cooks it down until no
water remains). A big problem here is that people cook their sauces for so long
that most if not all nutritional value from the vegetables is gone by the time
the meal is ready to be eaten.
What types of
appliances are available, you ask? If you're in a village like me, you do not
have electricity, so that means no blender, electric can opener, electric stove
or oven for that matter, microwave, toaster, toaster oven, coffee maker (for
you avid coffee drinkers out there),
and while we're at it, no dish washer for afterward. That leads me to
the two most missed of all: refrigerators and freezers. You can't keep things
cold like you're used to and you certainly can't really chill anything. To
counteract this, desert fridges exist. These are constructed in large clay
bowls when filled with water use evaporation as a cooling mechanism. I haven't
tried this yet, but hope to. This won't keep things refrigerator-cold, but it
can cool things down enough and help preserve some produce an extra day or two.
One also learns, that food lasts longer than people often think it does in the
states. You can prepare a meal and have it last a day or two without
refrigeration as long as you make sure to check it and heat it up before
consuming again to kill off any bacteria that may have formed.
we do have available include: cooking outdoors with wood and/or straw (luckily,
many have learned how to construct these clay cylindrical ovens that increase
efficiency and decrease the amount of wood needed to cook a meal and have made
cooking easier, faster, and cheaper), a small gas bottle about 2 feet high and
maybe 2 feet in diameter with a round, flat, holey metal piece attached to the
top with a long plastic knob used to turn the gas on and off. The upper outside
of the gas bottle is surrounded by a thin sheet of metal with pieces leading to
the center where the gas comes out, thus leaving space for pots and pans to be
placed, a larger gas bottle twice the size of the smaller that is hooked up via
a piece of tubing and a metal contraption to a stove top (mine has 2 larger
burners and one smaller while others have as many as 4 total burners), and
small cylindrical metal contraptions where coal is added underneath and things such as tea are made.
Naturally, one needs matches or a lighter to get the fire started after turning
the gas on.
So, we don't have ovens here? Wrong! We have Dutch ovens. I like it best using my little gas bottle and that stove rather than the big one, but you can use either, it's only necessary to have a heat source. To construct your Dutch oven, you use a marmite (which is a big metal pot that looks like one a witch would use to prepare a brew), fill the bottom of it with 2-3 inches of sand, not dirt, and then place three empty cans, such as little tomato paste cans (like I used) in a triangle on top of the sand. When you want to bake something you can place the lid on the marmite, but it on top of your heat source and wait for it to heat up. Then you place whatever you want to bake or toast inside the marmite on top of the three cans and watch it happen. Or rather, put the lid on and wait for it to happen. Sadly, marmites with a clean pane in front and a light inside have yet to be invented.
I made two batches of banana bread this week because I liked it so much. I used a recipe from a book we volunteers were given and put my own spin on it. I first mixed the dry ingredients: 2 cups flour (I used wheat but as I said it looked white to me), ¾ cups sugar (the recipe called for white, but I used the brown cane sugar instead which after mixing that with the flour, it then looked like wheat), 1 tsp salt, and 1 tsp baking soda. Then I mixed the wet ingredients: 2 slightly beaten eggs, 3 mashed up bananas (I used four because I like bananas and they're very small here), 1 tsp vanilla sugar (I found a small bottle of some type of vanilla extract at Marina Market and so used that and I think it made the dish). Then I added the wet to the dry and stirred it up. I'd also like to point out that I don't have any measuring cups or utensils here, so I eyeballed it and did my best guesstimate regarding quantities. Then, since I didn't have butter or a loaf pan, I chose a pot about the right size, oiled it with my olive oil and then added my bread batter to the pot. I then placed my bot on top of the three tin cans inside my preheated Dutch oven, covered the marmite with it's top and waited an hour for it to bake. I kept my heat fairly low to prevent the marmite from getting too hot. Unfortunately, the gas here is not as reliable or consistent as in the states, so my second banana bread batch (made 2 days after the first, because I ate it in two days and even that was hard dragging it out for that long) was a bit darker on the outside because the gas increased and therefore made the flame higher and hotter and I did not realize it right away – I did luckily realize it in time to do some damage control and not burn my tasty treat. And it was delicious.
Another thing taken for granted in the states is water. In my village, I don't have running water, so I need to go to a pump to get it. This has taught me to be very conscious about water use and I've found ways to reuse and conserve water. Sinks with running water and toilets do exist here, but only in the bigger cities and even then, they're not very commonplace. One is more likely to find houses with water spickets coming out of the back of someone's house, like with my host family, than to find a sink.
spices, as I said, salt is easily available. One uses leaves a lot here to
flavor things. Ginger and tamarind leaves are easily found. Spices like black
pepper, oregano, basil, thyme, and coriander can only be found in big cities
like Bobo and Ouaga.
For utensils, one can find bowls, pots, pans, plates, forks, and spoons fairly easily, but they are often not of good quality. It's difficult to find decent knives here. I bought a set before coming to village and within the first couple days my knife was showing signs of rust. Spatulas are expensive and I have yet to see any baking spatulas or scrapers. If you want a good can-opener, it's best to bring one or have one sent from somewhere else.
ice cream and cheese are only found in big cities and again, obviously, must be
eaten right away. The only cheese that is easily found here is vache qui rit or
laughing cow and that's a cheese spread that can be left out and lasts a while,
so you can make up your mind about that. But when it's all you've got, you
learn to love it.
Things to have
sent from home include cheese-related products (cheese wiz, easy cheese, nacho
cheese, mac n' cheese, Parmesan/Romano cheese), beef jerky, granola bars,
special teas and coffees (both are found here, but not in large varieties),
gravy, dressings, sauce, and soup packets, kool-aid, gatorade, and drink mixes,
maple syrup, peanut butter (again, can be found here, but it's not sweetened
and is made from peanuts and oil = still tasty).
One final note: juices. The juices the Burkinabé made are delicious. I already mentioned jus (juice) de weda, bissap which is made similarly to weda only one uses bissap leaves, zoom-koom (made with tamarind leaves, ginger, millet, piment, sugar, and water), and ginger juice to name a few. So, that's the basics of the food situation here in in Burkina. It's different, but it works, especially once you get used to it. You've still able to prepare a variety of different foods and dishes if you aren't afraid to get creative.
Oh, I almost forgot, bouillie! Bouillie (pronounced bwee) is Burkinabé porridge. It's made with water (best when first soaked with tamarin leaves), millet meal, sorghum, maize, or rice, and I like mine with ginger. You can also add salt They form these little balls of flour and ginger first with water and then add that and the rest of the flour to water, boil it, add sugar and milk if you want, and enjoy. It's delicious. It's like a cross between cream of wheat and oatmeal, but more watery. It's like thickened water with little tiny balls of tasty goodness in it. I'd highly recommend trying it or learning how to prepare it! Well, that's it for now.
Until next time?