About the food of Sierra Leone

Woman and child in Mile 91, Sierra Leone. Photo by Annabel Symington.

Woman and child in Mile 91, Sierra Leone. Photo by Annabel Symington.

I recently watched a video from the BBC about Sierra Leone in preparation for today, which asks the question “Is the Global Media too negative about Africa“?

Great question. I have my answer, and if you’ve been around this blog for more than five minutes, you can probably guess what it is.

My mission is to build up the positive stories, for every country, no matter what. Please note, you should not ignore the negative. We need to be aware. To do our part. This is vital. But you’ll just have to seek out those stories somewhere else.

Hopefully, one day, balance will be restored so that all people can be seen with the dignity they deserve.

That’s called love.

And, with that, let’s begin.

Freetown. Photo by David Hond.

Freetown. Photo by David Hond.

On the curve of West Africa lives Sierra Leone, a country whose capital, Freetown, clamors right up to the water’s edge. Freetown is a symbol of hope, a place whose population is made up of both African tribes and freed slaves (called Creoles). As you wander the crowded streets, you’ll see brightly painted walls in a rainbow of colors and street vendors selling everything from mangoes to banana fritters,  grilled corn, and even popcorn. Accents may not match, but the vendors are upbeat and lively, just the same.

Just beware. Stay focused. Don’t let their friendly call lure you towards something you hadn’t planned on buying. As with the old saying:

If you listen to the market noise, you won’t buy what you want.*

The country herself is spread among three provinces and 149 chiefdoms, a collection of people spread among wandering hills and mangrove swamps.

Maps & flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

Maps & flag courtesy of CIA World Factbook.

As with West Africa in general, Sierra Leone uses her fair share of red palm oil, which, when included in large quantities, lends a unique and bright red tint to food prepared with this signature oil. This includes the infamous Groundnut Stew (a.k.a. Peanut Stew, a version of which I made for Ghana) and many bean dishes (especially black-eyed peas).

The staple is rice, which is often served under many thick sauces and stews (often bolstered with okra or smoked fish) [Recipe]. On a good day, they’ll be spiked with beef, chicken, or goat for added protein.

On the coast and along rivers, fish is wrapped in banana leaf packets called abala, after being tossed with rice flour, onion, and pepper. And, speaking of rice flour, this naturally gluten-free flour also makes its way into desserts, such as kanya, or peanut bites  [Recipe].

Rice farming, Rolako, Bombali district, Sierra Leone. Photo by Marc RACHOU.

Rice farming, Rolako, Bombali district, Sierra Leone. Photo by Marc RACHOU.

There’s plenty of good, traditional food to nibble on, but I keep going back to that amazing mother in the first photo.

She’s must be carrying at least 20 mangoes on her head. That’s not counting the bunches of bananas or the bag of mangoes by her side. Or, even, the small child and banana on her back.

Now that’s strength.


  1. I did the same thing and kept looking at that photo. I am especially attracted by the woman’s posture: there she is loaded with fruits and a child on her back, and she walks straight like a queen! Awesome!

    • Sasha Martin says

      Yes, she makes me sit a little taller, just looking at that picture. 🙂

  2. aunty eileen says

    can’t wait to hear what your positive stories about America will be 🙂

      • aunty eileen says

        Yes, I would think a very difficult Country to present. Maybe not too early to start a ‘survey’ 🙂

  3. Celeste Childress says

    I, too, lingered on the laden lady, but even so, missed that she was carrying a baby. Had to go back for another look.

  4. Brian S. says

    I loved Freetown. It was a happy town in those days. I stayed at the City Hotel, a big rambling wood building (built in 1925) in a town full of wooden buildings. I sat on the big veranda, swapping stories with Peace Corps volunteers, and I ate in a tiny shack called 1049 Chophouse — chophouse is local lingo for bistro — where you could get a big plate of rice and yummy stew for half a leone. Fun times. Later I made my way to a tiny village where life flowed on to more traditional rhythms.

    Sierra Leone has been influenced, for better or worse, by Europe for over 400 years. One of the better influences is music. 19th century ballads and sea chanties are echoed by local musicians. Here’s one of their best-known singers singing just such a ballad.


  5. I can’t wait to see what you post this week. I had a friend who was stationed in Sierre Leone for the Peace Corp in the early 1990’s. He was evacuated by the military after a civil war broke out, but eventually went back. I was fascinated with his tales of the country and its people.

  6. Trudi says

    I’m learning about other countries along with my eleven year old. Each month or so we try to honor a new country by educating ourselves on their culture, etc. We also cook some dishes native to that country and make an event of it. This month she closed her eyes, reached out and touched Sierra Leone on her world map!
    What a fascinating history!
    I would love to learn more about their traditions and people. Any positive information would be helpful 🙂

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