Saturday, June 23, 2012

Cooking in Burkina Faso

Cooking in villages (and in town)

Most cooking here is done in the courtyard of the home, over a wood fire.  In order to cook, you have to go find wood, and that, along with finding water, are major activities for many women each day. Here are three women who have gone into the bush to gather wood, carrying the branches home on their heads.
 At the marché you will find an area where people are selling wood and charcoal they have made from the wood they have gathered.

The traditional way to set up your kitchen is with three rocks holding up your marmite (pot).  You build the fire underneath the pot.  The problem is that much of the heat escapes around the pot, and the fire may even extend outside the rocks, wasting your precious wood.
The help with this problem, people may build improved wood stoves by surrounding the rocks with the mud they use to make bricks here. This not only restricts the fire to the place under the pot, it also holds some of the heat. You need a lot less wood to accomplish the same amount of cooking with a stove like this. Teaching people how to make this improved wood stoves was one of Janet's projects when she was in the Peace Corps in Mali 28 years ago. Here is an example of an improved wood stove with space for two pots. Dolo, the local beer, is being boiled in both of the pots.
 It is against the law to cut down a tree without a special permit, but it is legal to prune a tree, and that is the way much of the fire wood is produced. People have wood lots where they plant trees that grow fast and will sprout new branches when old ones are cut off.  Here is a truck, loaded with fire wood, on the way to Ouagadougou. When I take the bush taxi or bus to Ouaga we pass many trucks like this along the way.
Yes, even in town most people cook with firewood. I took this picture out of the window of a hotel in the middle of Ouaga. As you can see, the house is just one room, like many in the villages, and the courtyard is used as the living and work space.  It is hard to make out, but they are cooking in the same way as they would in a village.
If you can afford to cook with gas, you may have a cook stove like mine.  Even people who have gas stoves tend to do most of their cooking over the wood fire. Even though you or your children may spend a lot of time finding the wood, it is free, and you have to pay for the gas.

People who make food to sell often cook in a "stone" oven.  Here is one of the places I often buy bread, with some of the kids who sell it posing behind the bread and in front of the oven.
Another thing that is made in this kind of over is "porc au feur", that is, roasted pork.  If you can find a good pig for sale, you buy it, have it slaughtered and inspected by the veterinarian.  A person seeing the pork will see the official stamp on the skin showing that the meat has been inspected and found to be good. The porc au feur man cuts the meat it up into small chunks, and puts it in a big cooking tray, about the size of his oven, to roast. People may buy a sack of pork to take home, or they may sit in the hangar to eat it. You only find people cooking and selling pork when there are a substantial number of Christians in the area.  Muslims, of course, do not eat pork. During Lent, if market day was on Friday, I could not find any pork to buy. I like to get to the place cooking the pork before they put it in the oven.  I buy a piece that is just the meat, if I can convince the person that is what I really want (no skin or fat or bone). Then I can fry it up in my pan at home.  I usually get enough for two meals. I have a fried pork sandwich for lunch and use the rest of the meat in some kind of dish for dinner.

Another kind of meat you often find in the village is goat.  Because about half of the people here muslin, there is a good market for goat meat or mutton. These are usually cooked on a big charcoal grill. The cooked bits are wrapped in brown paper with onion and tomato (if tomatoes are available) and kept warm at the edge of the grill. The contents of the package will include bone, fat and organs as well as the meat.  If I am going for goat, I also try to get there early and get just the meat, although with goat it is a bit harder to get meat without the bone.

Chickens and guinea fowl are also cooked on charcoal grills.  They are cooked with the head still attached, so you see for sure whether it is a chicken or a guinea fowl.  I also think people like to eat the head.

When cooking at home, one of the standard Burkinabè meals consists of tô and some kind of sauce.  To make the tô, you have to have some kind of flour.  You may buy corn or millet at the market.  People here prefer the flavor of corn flour, but I understand the millet is actually more nutritious.
If you can afford it, you may take your grain to a person who has a mill to grind it.  Otherwise you pound it until it is fine, as these women are doing.
Tô is made by boiling water and gradually adding the flour.  As you add the flour you keep stirring the mixture. When it gets to be the right consistency, you whip it until it is thick.  Here is a girl whipping to on one of those improved wood stove
People usually scoop the tô out with some kind of container, like a dried gourd, and let it cool.  The tô holds the shape of the container it cools in.  Then you pile all of this in a pot and people can pull off a portion, dip it in the sauce, and eat it.  I think of tô as a way to get the sauce to your mouth because, by itself, it does not have much flavor. The sauce is often very spicy and salty, so having a very bland base makes it easier to eat the sauce. The two kinds of sauce I recognize are oseille and gumbo.  Gumbo is okra so gumbo sauce is very slimy.  The oseille sauce is a bit like spinach and I can eat some of that with pleasure.
Another standard meal is called riz gras.  It is rice that is cooked in a tomato based sauce so when it is finished, it is sort of pink and has a nice taste.  It is my favorite African dish.  It may be accompanied by a sauce made with tomatoes and other vegetables, and it will probably have some dried fish that has been cooked in it. Perhaps surprisingly, spaghetti with meat or fish sauce is a common dish. Sorry I do not have pictures of some of these things, but I may be able to correct that when I buy a new camera to replace the one that was stolen.


  1. Very interesting. I like the taste of okra but the taste is almost offset by the texture so it's a relatively rare "treat" for me.

  2. It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.