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Food, eating habits and cusine of Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso is a low-income West African country, landlocked by six other African nations. In 2018, the country’s population reached nearly 20 million and it continues to grow at a rate of 3.1% a year. Burkina Faso has a hot tropical climate, temperatures vary between 25°C in January and 32°C in May, although this increases to 45°C in some parts of the north. The country’s dry season runs between October and February and its rainy season runs intermittently between June and September, with the heaviest rainfall in August.

Burkina Faso’s economy is massively dependent on agriculture and nearly 80% of the working population is employed within it. Cotton is the principal crop for the country, although the importance of gold exports has risen significantly over recent years.

Burkinabé Cuisine

Burkinabé cuisine is the cuisine of Burkina Faso and it’s very similar to the foods in many other parts of Western Africa. Burkinabé cuisine is based on basic fare such as: sorghum wheat, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams, millet, rice, okra (gombo), with rice, millet and maize being the most commonly used grains. Grilled meat is popular in Burkina Faso and the most common meats are mutton, lamb, poultry, goat, beef and fish. Vegetables that Burkinabé people eat besides yams, potatoes and okra, are tomatoes, zucchini, carrots, leeks, onions, beets, pumpkins, cucumbers, cabbage, sorrel and spinach.

Common Dishes in Burkina Faso

Riz Gras, Source

Tô - A lot of meals in Burkina Faso are centred around pieces of Tô, (Saghbo in Mooré). Tô are compacted balls of white starch which are made with millet, sorghum wheat or corn to create cooled polenta-style cakes that are eaten by hand. These plain starch balls are fantastically adaptable because when they are used as dumplings, they take on the flavour of the broths, soups and stews that they are put or dipped into. In Burkina Faso, broths, soups and stews are often tomato or peanut based and together with Tô, form the country’s every day fare. The dish is sometimes supplemented by a piece of meat such as mutton or goat.

Babenda - Babenda is another staple meal in Burkina Faso. This ‘one-pot’ meal is created when a blend of bitter greens, such as kale, spinach or cabbage, is cooked with your grain of choice. What makes Babenda interesting are the soumbala, or fermented locust beans, which add a sharp, almost blue cheese-like flavour and smell to the dish. The soumbala is mashed together with dried or smoked fish which makes the taste even more intense and add a fishy edge to the meal, as well as some protein.

Meat Dishes - Meat is a bit of a luxury in Burkina Faso. As mentioned earlier, it is most common to grill meat such as mutton, lamb, poultry, goat, beef and fish and this is done over open fires. Either the whole animal is grilled or it is prepared into broadsheet kebabs. Marinades are used to bring out the flavour of the meat, chili pepper and cinnamon are a common choice as these are used to create a popular spiced lamb kebab recipe. Some families in Burkina Faso use Kan Kan Kan, a spice blend created with hot chili peppers, all spice, peanut powder and salty Maggi (bouillon) cubes. Other families prefer hot pepper sauce or fruit chutneys to spice things up but this would depend on ingredient’s availability and the season.

Riz Gras - Riz Gras is a meat and rice-based dish, often served at parties in urban areas of Burkina Faso and it literally means “fat rice”. Chicken pieces are slowly stewed with chili peppers, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables, until the chicken falls off the bone. Riz Gras is prepared with lots of meat and vegetables and is usually served on a bed of rice. Additional ingredients used include eggplant, bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, onion, garlic, meat or vegetable stock, oil and salt.

Fufu - Fufu is not just a staple food in Burkina Faso, it is also popular in other African countries such as Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria. Fufu is made by mixing and pounding equal portions of cassava and green plantain flour with water into a dough-like consistency. Other flours, such as semolina, maize flour or mashed plantains can also be used. Fufu is often served with palm nut soup, groundnut soup or some other light soup. Fufu is eaten with the fingers and a small ball of it is dipped into the accompanying soup or sauce.

Poulet bicyclette - Poulet bicyclette, or bicycle chicken, is common throughout Burkina Faso. Its name comes from the chicken sellers who used to carry enormous numbers of chickens to market on bicycles, however nowadays they tend to use motorbikes.  Poulet bicyclette is a simple dish, consisting of chicken pieces tenderized by marinating them in lemon juice for 24 hours before grilling.

Baobab (fruit) tree, Source

Ragout d'Igname - Ragout d'Igname is another dish that is popular in other parts of West Africa as well as Burkina Faso. Translated into English Ragout d'Igname means ‘yam stew’ and although the recipe for the dish is always similar it can be varied by adding different vegetables, beef, poultry or fish.

Riz sauce - Riz sauce, or rice with sauce, is exactly what it says. The meal is served as a plate of white rice with a separate small bowl of sauce, the sauce can be peanut or tomato based. Sometimes vegetables such as cabbage and onions are added to make things a bit more interesting and it always contains lots of palm oil.

Sauce gombo - Okra or ‘gombo’ in many African languages, is a vegetable that is commonly used as a thickening agent. Burkinabé and other West African cooks use it as the base for many soups and stews, which are usually served with stiff porridge made of cassava, millet or maize flour.

Brochettes - In English, the use of the French word ‘brochette’ means skewer. In cookery, ‘en brochette’ simply means 'on a skewer' and it describes the type of dish or the method of cooking the food. Skewers are often used in the variety of kebab dishes, very popular in Burkina Faso.

Poulet Braisé - Poulet Braisé, or braised chicken, is one of the African specialties that can be accompanied by pretty much anything. For example, you can serve it with rice and sauce, fried plantains or serve it alone with a spicy tomato sauce. Poulet Braisé, which is marinated for a few hours and cooked in embers or on the grill, is found everywhere in Africa.

Common Beverages in Burkina Faso

Bissap - Bissap is a fresh hibiscus tea made from Roselle (Bissap) flowers. This sour-tasting drink is served on ice with pineapple slices and sugar thrown in for added sweetness.

Degue - Degue is a drink made from pearl millet and yogurt and is named after a town in south-western Burkina Faso.

Dôlo – Dôlo is a local beer in Bukina Faso and is made from pearl millet or sorghum wheat.

Toédo – Toédo is a drink made from milk and the fruit of the African baobab tree, or to give it it’s more commonly used name, the dead-rat tree due to the appearance of the fruit.

Yamaku – Yamaku, or Gnamankoudji, is a refreshing, slightly spicy beverage made from ginger, honey, rice and koji.

Zoomkoom – Zoomkoom is a non-alcoholic drink made from millet flour, ginger, lemon juice and tamarind.

Eating Out in Burkina Faso

Common West African cuisine is served in most restaurants in main cities such as Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso. Menus are varied and it’s not that hard to find a restaurant serving international dishes, especially in the big cities. In general, food and beer are reasonably priced and the nightlife in the cities is never boring. Bars and dance clubs are dotted all around the cities, especially near hotels. All kinds of venues are on offer, from sports bars with pool tables to large dance spots. A majority of places stay open late and the bars and clubs draw mixed crowds of both locals and tourists.

Along with the restaurants offering traditional Burkinabé and West Africian cuisine, the main cities also have a couple of French, Italian and Chinese restaurants to choose from (along with a few other international cuisines). In Burkina Faso, whether someone is a local, an expat or a tourist they have a great many restaurants and bars to choose from.

A word of caution though, when eating out in Burkina Faso, travellers should always practice caution in regards to food safety and avoid foods such as: undercooked or raw meat, poultry, seafood, fish, and eggs; unpeeled fruits, vegetables and leafy greens; unpasteurized dairy products or any foods that have been unrefrigerated or uncovered for a long time such as buffets. Avoid restaurants and food vendors that appear unclean or that don’t have many customers.

Road accidents are very common in some areas of Burkina Faso and travellers need to reduce the risks, especially if they are visiting restaurants at night. Definitely wear a seatbelt and always decline a lift from anyone who has been drinking. Burkina Faso is one of safest countries in West Africa, however, crime does happen, particularly petty theft and pickpocketing so it’s advised that travellers use money belts when wondering the cities for something to eat.

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