Wednesday, December 5, 2007

La Cuisine a Beninoise

Several travel books make the claim that Beninese food is some of the best in West Africa. While I can't comment on the comparative element of this assertion, I think that this culinary judgment should probably be made with some qualifications, or at least some divulsion regarding what exactly composes Beninese cuisines.

Beninese food for the most part consists of 2 parts:

A) Starch. You have your starch, sometimes rice or cous-cous. But most of the time it is "Pâte," a lump of paste made out of either corn mill or garri. Here in the North "Ignam Pilé" is in my opinion a more palatable alternative to Pâte. It is basically boiled yam (not the yam found in the states…these are huge…starches on steroids) pounded (w/ gigantic mortars and pestols) into a thick disk-shape perhaps very roughly resembling the closest thing they get to mashed potatoes here.

B) Sauce. The sauce is usually composed of some variety of the following ingredients, all easily found in your local village market: tomatoes and/or T paste; Maggi cubes (think bullion cube); onions, piemont (peppers), garlic, oil, and often some meat (beef and chicken are best, but goat and fish are the other more lowly of God's creatures who frequent these sauces more often). Sauce "legume" will have a greenish vegetable in the ensemble, and sometimes "Wasagi" cheese. And "gumbo" is a slimy concoction made using okra…perhaps the Beninese salute to Southern cuisine?

And that's about it as far as variety goes. On the streets one might also find "boie" (think oatmeal, but made with corn meal instead of oats); fried yams, or fried balls of dough (sometimes made w. bean-curd) and surved w/ a hot sauce. Outdoor "cafeterias" will offer you one of the above staple/sauce combinations, perhaps also with additional options of spaghetti noodles, beans, and cheese (rice, beans, cheese are my own daily staple here). Often you can also find an omelet stand, a "salad lady," someone selling bread, and in most towns you can find some guys grilling meat in the open market.