Monthly Archives: March 2016

Gourmand pleasures in West African food

The food in West Africa is GOOD. The geography has blessed the south part of the region with sea access (lots of seafood), tropical weather (lots of fresh fruit and vegetables) and a French heritage.

By default the main dish here will include: 1) your carbs, 2) your sauce, and 3) your meat/fish. And mostly all the food is eaten from the same plate by all the people eating together, and with the hand.

In the Ivory Coast one of the main dishes is the Futu Banane: You cook manioc (which is a root) and banana. Then you “pile” them in the pilon until they become a dough. You add the meat of your preference cooked in the sauce of your preference and voila. It will have the sweetness of the banana, which balances very well the spice of your sauce.

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In Benin its cousin is the Igname Pile. The Igname is a root, and it is also “piled” in the pilon, but it is much harder and it usually takes at least 2 women to do the job. In some places or for party days, you will see 5 or 6 (babies included on the back as the picture shows) in duty. It is very hard! My hands were full of blizters after just trying once.

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Here is some fancy igname pile with peanut sauce. I love peanut sauce.

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People in the Ivory Coast eat a lot of snails. They fry them and add them to the sauce. Or in brochettes. Crabs are not difficult to find either and they are a staple in the region.

Issia (5) Snails at the market

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P1070016This is a pretty bad-ass looking crab don’t you think? I am not even sure it is a crab, the madame insisted it was… me, I just took the picture and left as soon as possible.

Food is very easy to find. It either comes from either the head of somebody no matter where you turn…

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The market…

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Your garden…

aguacates(One night we asked our gardener for ONE avocado for the next morning… and when we open the door the next day this is what we found by it)

Here by the coast fish is everywhere: in lakes, rivers, and the sea. The fishing industry is underdeveloped so it is mostly done in the traditional way. Here Monica tried once but after entangling herself in the net three times in row, she left Salif do it on his own

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It is better to leave it to the experts

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Here the people pulling the net from the sea. They sing a very particular song that tells them how and when to pull. Sometimes there is a kid next to them with the drum keeping the beat.

 

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Fish is mostly eaten grilled or fried (with sauce and your carbs)

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This is Pirron, made of manioc flour, with fish and tomato sauce

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This is fish with legume sauce, fried plantain and a ball of akassa: a fermented corn dough steamed.

Pause in the local foods for a moment and we move on for a moment to the breads. As I said there is an extensive heritage of French, if not cuisine, bakery for sure.

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Baguettes, you can find anywhere and they are 30 cents of Cdn dollar. The sisters provide professional training in bakery of baguettes and sweet bread (boulangerie and pattisserie) given their demand.

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A few of my colleagues and I took a french bakery course last year in the school where I teach with Madame Blanche: she is the queen of bakery. It was fun! and I learned to make brioches, croissantes, puff pastry, five different kind of cakes and crepes, it was fun.

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Here is Mme Blanche explaining the technique. but even more fun is when the school students have their practical exams and I am invited to “judge” when Mme Blance has already eaten too many samples… (here in the picture she is saying: they are all horrible! and writing very low notes)

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Even though myself, I would give them 20/20!

And then we also have the street version of Donkin Donuts:

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A quarter of Cdn dollar will buy you 6, they are so good!

Kitchens are very different here. What amazes me the most is that, most of them don’t have running water or electricity. This is a regular kitchen:

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We cook on gas little tanks what can be done quickly:

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But most is done on charcoal:

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And the resourcefulness of the people here is incredible. So one morning I went 6am to the house of the Mme Yvonne, the lady who runs the school cafeteria. She prepares everything at her home and brings it everyday in coolers to the school. No running water, no electricity and no refrigerators either. And the school has 1000 students and 100 profs/admin staff. Same if not everybody eats cafeteria food, a very good chunk do. And why wouldn’t they? The food is so good and so well prepared! I do. For 75 cents of Canadian dollar I have my very good lunch everyday. Make it 85 cents to include pineapple or lemon juice.

So  here behind the scenes of preparing a Tuesday meal for the school cafeteria:

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The kitchen. Outdoors.

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Many pots cooking good stuff: rice, beans, sauces… all on charcoal

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Mme Yvonne preparing the Kom to steam. The Kom is typical from Togo, it is a dough made of fermented corn. Since there are no steamers here, you fill half of the pot with corn husks , add water, a layer of plastic cloth. Close the pot and voila your african steamer that works to perfection. On charcoal.

Here is a picture of kom:

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And one of my girls eating it at the school…. with the hand:

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Back to Mme Yvonne’s kitchen, here is her assistant rinsing the rice. These women do everything bended on the floor, as if there were no tables in this world, they are incredible: cooking, washing clothes, dishes…

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And when everything is finished, it goes to the coolers to be taken to the school and served to the hungry students:

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Now to finish this deliciuos entry on delicious food, I leave you with the how-to of one of my favorites: ABLO. The ablo are little “cakes” made of rice and wheat flour, sugar, yeast and water. You eat them with fried mini-fish and chili paste. Again the combination of the slightly sweet ablo balances perfectly the very spicy chili paste.

So we start where we should, in the kingdom of Ablo: Come.

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Come is a small city between Cotonou and the Togolaise border. It is famous for the ablo. Almost everybody traveling on that highway stops to buy Ablo. Many women with the ablo baskets and fish come running to the cars to offer their products. It reminds me so much of Mexico…

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So first you mix the ingredients in a bowl. If you are doing a large production like the women in Come, you migh need instead a basin

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The secret of the ablo apparently is in the mixing. My friend says her mom will oblige to their family’s cravings for ablo with the condition that they do the mixing. Wooden spoon is optional.

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Since pampered chef hasn’t arrived yet to Cotonou, they use soda cans as molds. Cut in two with a linen of plastic at the bottom.

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You fill the molds

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While you are filling, you get “the oven” started. Here is another way of steaming if you are doing massive productions. So this oven is a sheet of aluminium bended in a circle with an aluminium bucket inside full of water and a metal grid on top. The wood heats the water, the water evaporates and the steam goes up.

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So you place your sheet of ablos, and then 3 cans of tomato sauce to make a second floor

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You cover and in 15 minutes your ablo is ready to enjoy!

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When you are in Come, you go to a restaurant where you buy your drinks and the women who walk around the streets with the ablo on their heads come to offer you some, followed by a younger girl who has the selection of fish/shrimps to choose from:

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And then they go to look for new clients, leaving you to enjoy a wonderful meal, while their husbands are probably fishing or harvesting the ingredients to making it happen.

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In this area of the world, food is a social affair in all the senses: everybody eats from the same plate, a whole family works to make your meal happen… food at the end of the day, in all the corners of the world, brings people together.

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Bon appetit!

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Togo

Togo is the country next door to Benin to the left. The kingdoms of Benin, back in the days, came actually from Togo. 7.5 million people, small country.

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Former german colony, they left wonderful infrastructure (up to today the bridges that are still there: built by the germans… the roads that are still there: german too) and a big selection of very good beer (contrary to Benin that only has La Beninoise and it is not that good really…)

cerveza castel     cerveza eku

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cerveza beaufort

Beaufort makes me laugh because its billboards are like, at the top of the Everest… in a country where almost no family has a refrigerator at home. You turn around and see nothing like that… still is a good memory of my dear Canada, especially now in wintertime.

In the past 2 months I have crossed twice to Togo: One to the north and the other one to Lome, the capital on the south coast. The northern border is almost a joke… a piece of cord hanging from one side to the other, a sleepy officer and two hens crossing back and forth. Ah! but they reclaim their 20,000 francs for visa and fill all your information by hand in dusty yellow double-linned notebook pages. Need to use the washroom? Literally: behind the tree.

a_camino de ida (7)Togo-Benin border

e_regresoCustoms office

Well, last month we went North of Togo to a celebration and did we celebrate! Drums drums drums non-stop day and night, lots of color and smiles and good food!

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As most homes don’t have running water, your hosts will bring you a pitcher TO YOUR SIT, so you can wash your hands. Since we eat with the hands here, they are always clean!

The North of Togo is semi-arid with a heavy muslim population. The traditional houses are called tatas and they are made of clay with palmtree roofs, very stereotypical. Usually they come together with a topless woman or several naked children running among the goats.

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LOME is the capital city on the south coast. It is small and charming. Well traced (germans, again) and much more organized in all senses than Cotonou (germans? vs french… probably yes)

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Lome street

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The main boulevard is ON the seafront.

IMG_5354Headquarters of Eco-bank

Then we have Togoville, which is about 45 mins from Lome. There is a La Salle school and my friends work there. Togoville is a small town, next to a lake, you have to cross in a pirogue to arrive. My pirogue was called Titanic… I should have taken a picture

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Togoville is the craddle of Togo voodoo, and in the moment you descend your pirogue, the gigantic fetiche greets you welcome

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(That burned grass infront: some kind of sacrifice-offering)

And then as you continue walking around the small town, you find the smaller fetiches greeting you along the way. A bit creepy for an outsider of the voodoo tradition as me.

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fetiche

Well, the school is fetiche-free and super big! They have with no doubt the biggest sport facilities around, and they share them with the community during the weekends. There is a boarding home for boys and another for girls who come from other places to study to this school. Here the 2 kids (15 years old and look at that height!) who were my welcome committee:

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Togoville is also well known by its Marian Sanctuary (where voodoo and catholicism meet): Notre Dame du Lac – a beautiful church with a shrine there for Mary overseeing the lake. Did I mention that Togo means “By the lake” (this lake).

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And sad as I was to leave beautiful Togo behind, I was consoled by the inevitable stop at Come (a Beninoise city between Lome and Cotonou) famous for its ablo… to eat ablo. But ablo and other food charms in another post.

 

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