About the food of Mali

Niger River, Mali. Photo by Ferdinand Reuss.

Mali is a dusty daydream away, down a lazy river, where dotted villages slip by, one by one, until forever. Of course, my first encounter with Mali wasn’t nearly so romantic, once I dug into the details. You see, I was watching a video on YouTube. When I read the caption I about fell over.  Here is what it said:

“This footage was taken on a 3 day trip from Mopti to Timbuktu on a cargo pinasse. No stopping. No toilets. No beds. You should try it.”

Wowzers. Talk about a challenge, considering there’s a half dozen other people on the boat (at least). No privacy and incredibly unusual circumstances – there seems to be an open fire in the bottom of the boat, where fufu is being prepared over gently undulating pools of water. Quite the travel experience.

Children in Mali. Photo by Olivier EPRON Olivierkeita

Located in the heart of West Africa, straddling the meandering Niger River, Mali has very different food in the north as compared to the south. In both areas, a wide assortment of sauces are the staple with a bowl of rice, corn, or millet porridge. Generally, millet and rice are the staples. Southern Mali is in the tropical zone and boasts peanut sauce (called tigedigena) and many foods we’ve seen before in this Adventure – groundnut soup [recipe], jollof [recipe], stewed greens [recipe], and the like.

To the north cous cous and milk products creep more commonly onto the scene, as it dips into the arid Saharan dessert. Millet and rice flours make for some naturally gluten free treats available at roadside stands throughout Mali [Recipe]. And, as always, there’s vanilla ginger bissap [Recipe], a tart tea made from hibiscus… we’ve also done bissap before with pineapple [recipe], however there are as many ways to season bissap as there are stars in the sky.


Street in Timbuktu. Photo by upyernoz from haverford, USA. Flag and maps courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

So those are just a few tidbits. Have you had any experiences with Mali? P.S. In case you think you have no connection to Mali, think again. Mali is the home of “Timbuktu,” a town that so very remote and difficult to get to, the town is now listed in English dictionaries as a word meaning any “far away place.” Surely this little tidbit has crossed your horizon at one time or another?


  1. Amber says

    Great post. I enjoy how much you research and how you actually take your readers to that place. It’s nice too that you reference your past Adventure experiences when you post. It reminds one of how connected the world is and how varied. It’s so fun to read this and be taken away to that world (and still be at home where there are toilets-a-plenty). 🙂

    • Sasha Martin says

      Yes, it really is a small world… with many overlapping stories and foods. That’s beauty!

  2. TimbuKtu is a real place? I never knew that!!
    My Dad was always saying something faciously about sending us to Timbuktu or going to Timbuktu……you know, like those obtuse phrases: “east osh gosh Nova Scotia” or “you look like you have no mama no papa no chow chow” and so forth and so on …

  3. Brian S. says

    Dusty, remote and seemingly at the end of the world today, Mali was once one of the pinnacles of world civilization. You’ve probably heard of the three great empires of West African history, Ghana, Mali and Songhai. All of them were in Mali!! (Modern Ghana just stole the name.) Around 1300, the king of Mali, who, though full-blooded African, not Arab, made a pilgrimage to Mecca and blew all the Arabs he met in Mecca away with his wealth and erudition. Not that Mali was unknown to Europe. Books written in Spain around 1100 described its wealth and culture.

    All this came to a crashing halt. Sometime just before the year 1600, a messenger arrived in the city of
    Timbuctu. With a population of about a million, Timbuctu was the capital of the great Songhai Empire. The chronicler Leo Africanus found the city “exceeding rich”, and saw many “doctors, judges, priests and other learned men that are bountifully maintained at the king’s cost and charges” The courier bore a message for the ruler from the king of Morocco, who demanded tribute. The Emperor, who had barely heard of
    Morocco, and knew it was far away across impassable desert, laughingly refused.

    In 1591, the Moroccan ruler sent an army of European mercenaries across the Sahara. Most died in the desert, but those that reached Timbuctu had guns. They conquered the city and destroyed it, and thus
    ended the last great empire of the southern Sahara.

    The river was too low for cargo boats when I went so I made the three day trip on a big wood canoe with a motor.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Fascinating… and you were there! Amazing. I’ll have to settle on daydreams for now.

  4. The Italian equivalent of Timbuktu is Canicattì, a town in Sicily. They both exist, but I guess it makes all of us smile when we actually see a roadsign for them.

  5. KateH says

    Hiya! I came here looking for lyulya kebab, and made my way over here to the Mali page. I’ve just begun sponsoring an 8-year-old Malian girl’s education, after the heinous Boko Haram abductions of schoolgirls in Nigeria. I wanted to know a bit more about Malian culture, and this page helps. I think I’m going to make maasa sometime soon. It’ll give me something to serve my gluten-free friends, plus a little connection to a faraway girl I may never meet.

    I’ll be exploring your site further, I’m sure. What a great project!

    • Sasha Martin says

      How awesome!! This makes me so happy to hear my little website has helped you connect with someone like this. It is the exact reason I’ve continued this web site 🙂

    • Mara says

      I too sponsor 2 children from Mali,
      Did you make massa? How did it turn out?
      Hugs friend

  6. Sandra says

    Do you know what their typical meal times are for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Leave a Reply to Sasha Martin Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.