My feet might as well be jingle bells and my smiles made of gingerbread. I’m feeling the holiday spirit. I made cookies. There are parties to attend – dresses to wear – gløgg to drink. I even mailed out our holiday letter yesterday – one of my favorite traditions because it slows me down enough to reflect on the last year. Complete with family portrait, the entire project becomes a time stamp in an otherwise chaotic life, perfect to share with our dear family who all live so far away.
In the midst of all this wintery merriment, the time also came to explore the food of Liberia, a country on the coast of West Africa known for her hot, tropical weather. A place where, as Anthony Bourdain says, “a puff of air is an event.” I wondered, hope against hope, if there is some food Liberians might like that would be remotely “holiday” themed.
I was in luck.
For those of you who know a bit of Liberia’s history, perhaps this won’t seem so strange. You see, due to parts of Liberia being settled by slaves freed from the United States, the people brought with them an enduring love for many things Americans do – gingerbread cake, pumpkin pie, and coconut pie. Of course, these dishes aren’t exactly the same, as they’ve evolved and adapted since they were first brought to Liberia. For example, the gingerbread cake contains plantain and the coconut pie is heavy with fresh, shredded coconut.
Of course, there are more traditional West African foods found in Liberia as well – and no shortage of them – like Groundnut Soup and Jollof Rice – both of which we’ve made for other Global Table meals with great success. Liberians are also well-known for sharing a pot of goat soup, especially during times of celebration. The soup – and most meals, in fact – are served with rice or fufu – a cassava based starchy paste/ball that is eaten by hand.
Like most of West Africa, red palm oil, palm wine, and palm nuts are used throughout the cooking, giving the characteristic red color and unique flavor.
For dessert, if pie isn’t on the menu, fresh tropical fruit is the clear choice. With mangoes so juicy you’ll forget your name, Liberia definitely sweetens the deal by cooking them with a few cloves and serving with a cloud of whipped cream.
Goodness. Liberia definitely has the right idea.
These are just a few tidbits about the food of Liberia. I also highly recommend Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Liberia, where he gives a first-hand look at a remote tribe, so deep into the heart of the country, no map can find them. Just GPS coordinates.
What is your favorite food from this region?