About the food of Liberia

Dancer in Liberia. Photo courtesy of Meg Riggs. Students in Bong County Liberia. Photo courtesy of USAID.

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.

Lake Bomi, Tubmanburg, Liberia. Photo by Sahmeditor.

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?

Flag and maps courtesy of CIA World Factbook. Photo of Monrovia by Erik Hersman.

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Comments

  1. I just watched Bourdain’s visit to that village. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR35MO0LyJc It begins four minutes into the video. I visited a village like that in northeast Liberia, an hour’s walk from the nearest road, and that video brings back memories of simple yet golden village life. They even resolved a dispute over palm wine like the villagers in the video!

    • Sasha Martin says:

      How awesome that you were able to experience the same things he did, without the fancy crew and all that… I would think you had a few more ropes to jump than he did since he is so famous.

  2. Oh… music. Here’s an unusual one. In the years before the troubles began, in the late 70s, Malinda Jackson Parker was a rich eccentric lady in Monrovia, a certified member of the ruling creole elite. She never passed a beggar without giving him coins, she was friendly to all. Her one fault was making people listen to her sing and play piano. She wrote weird songs intended to help poor people learn hygiene, etc. Here she is singing one such song, telling people to beware of mosquitos! (The original album, very rare, has obtained cult status among New York hipsters.)

    http://www.myspace.com/0/music-player?songid=50071954

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