Culinary Adventures of Mali
The main staple of my region of Mali is millet. It is eaten at most meals in most of the small villages near me. For breakfast it is made into a watery porridge. For lunch and dinner it is pounded into a flour and cooked with water into a gelatinous, spongy porridge that one can break into pieces and dip into an adjoining sauce (think grainy, bland, millet polenta). This dish is called to (pronounced toe). I don’t mind the taste, however I am pretty open minded when it comes to food, and if I never had to again, I don’t feel I would be missing anything. The sauce in my village is usually made with baobab leaves, which is good because there are vitamins in baobab leaves, thus it is more nutritious than the better-tasting dried fish sauce called naji which literally translates to sauce water, that we get on special occasions. Roughly every ten days or so, we get rice for dinner. I always expect to because most days that is what is served for lunch and dinner, so rice is a very special treat. Any sort of meat or fish is also a treat because protein is pretty hard to come by in village.
Malians in my village eat a lot of snacks, and also tend to eat to as a meal between lunch and dinner., as well. Mangoes during mango season are consumed continuously. Peanuts are also a very common snack, along with other nuts that don’t exist in America. One such nut is eaten as a fruit by cows and donkeys in the brush, and then goes through the animal’s digestive track, is pooped out, then collected by village children, and cracked open with rocks. Inside lays a few small pieces of nut that taste like walnuts. They are actually quite good, despite their origins.
I started out having almost all of my meals provided by my host family. It is challenging to get food in village. All produce (and there isn’t much available this time of year) must come from Djeli market or San. However, without refrigeration, vegetables only last a couple days before going bad. This severely limits what I can cook for myself, meaning I have to be very active in making sure I have an adequate diet.
Over time, I have become more and more creative, and have definitely had some triumphs (much of which was aided by spices sent from America, thanks mom!). I found flour in San, and successfully made tortilla/flat bread out of it. It is delicious. The bread is a basic dough- flour, water, sugar, salt, and I can roll out thin pieces with my nalgene to cook in my skillet. The first day I made them, I sauted some tomatoes and green peppers and had something that resembled fajitas. The following day, I had the brilliant idea to make mango jam (mangoes have been more than abundant the past two months) and made more tortilla dough, filling the tortillas with the jam and frying them in oil. They were delightful. I’ve also been given guinea fowl eggs and made crepes with them. Crepes with sauteed tomatoes and peppers topped with some parmesan cheese (thanks mom!) was also delightful.
My triumph of cooking adventures occurred the day after my boss came to visit my site. It is a village tradition to give a chicken to any guests of the village, and when Yacouba, my boss, came for a site visit, Baba, Aly (my homologue), and the dugutigi (village chief) each gave him a chicken. Yacouba took two chickens, and gave me one. The next day, Seydou killed, defeathered, and chopped up my chicken into many pieces, and I cooked it with onions, garlic, tomatoes, lemon juice, honey, dried apricots, toasted almonds, cumin, curry, cinnamon, and coriander. I put it all over macaroni. It was amazing. I made two packages of macaroni and shared some with my host family, Aly and his family, Seydou, and the women at the susulike yoro. Malians eat every part of the chicken, so it was good to share it not only to share, or to provide my village with protein, but so I could get out of eating parts like the neck or the giblets. It is also good to know that with the right things, I am capable of cooking good food for myself while in my village.← The Family The Bugs →