Burkina Faso is a dizzying landscape of dusty red plains and grassy savannas, broken up by stunning rock formations that tower above the ground.
The culinary landscape of Burkina Faso is similar – plain, sparse even – with the occasional burst of unexpected flavor.
Let me explain.
Most meals are centered around pieces of Tô, a firm ball of white starch made with millet, sorghum, or corn. These bland balls are wonderfully adaptive because they take on the flavor the broths, soups, and stews that they are dipped into, often tomato or peanut based. This is every day fare – the turkey sandwich of Burkina Faso.
And, just like our sandwiches, Tô is eaten by hand.
This simple meal routine is broken up with rice, cous cous, or even maize.
Here’s where the burst of unexpected flavor comes in.
A blend of bitter greens, such as spinach, kale, or even mild cabbage, can be cooked with the grains to make a complete dish called Babenda (recipe). What makes Babenda interesting are the fermented locust beans (called soumbala or dawadawa) which add a sharp, blue cheese-like flavor and odor to the dish. To make things even more intense, the soumbala is mashed together with dried or smoked fish to add lingering … fishiness …, as well as some protein, to the meal.
Meat is a luxury in Burkina Faso. Most commonly, lamb or poultry is grilled over open fires (either the whole animal or broasheht- kabobs). Marinades might include chili pepper and cinnamon (spiced lamb kabob recipe). To bring out the flavor of the meat, some families use Kan Kan Kan (recipe), a spice blend made with peanut powder, hot chili peppers, allspice, and salty maggi cubes (bouillon cubes). Other families use hot pepper sauce or fruit chutney to spice things up, depending on availability and the season.
Riz Gras, literally “fat rice” is another staple. Chicken pieces are stewed with tomato, onion, and chili pepper until it falls off the bone. The name comes from the amount of oil which gets added. A lot. A ton. A truckload.
Hey now, that’s calories and flavor we’re talking about. And I’m okay with that.
If it’s too much oil, wash it down with some bissap – fresh hibiscus tea on ice, with pineapple slices thrown in for sweet, tantalizing fun (recipe).