Over the past couple of months we have been able to sample all kinds of dishes which are typical of West Africa. Some of the remarkable and every day ones are as follows. In Kindia, Guinea, Nafe kindly cooked a special lunch for us, Sauce de Feuilles. This is very typical cuisine which utilizes leaves as a base for a sauce. The sauce is sometimes cassava leaves, potato leaves or Baobab leaves. It includes onions, tomatoes, hot peppers, smoked fish and dried ochra. One can add chicken or beef or fish. This is a dish one can frequently find at a street stall or rice bar by the road side for 500 CFA or a dollar served with rice. Nafe’s lunch was quite a bit more elaborate than that. Eating street food can be interesting but you definitely take your chances being exposed to unclean conditions. Street vendors we have seen wash their dishes in soap and water but then rinse in unpurified water . If dishes are dry and clean and the food just cooked and hot there is no problem.
Another favorite lunch was in Labe at the Resto( restaurant) Calabash. Their Riz Gras was just perfect. Cabbage with tomato, squash, onion and pepper on top of rice with a tomato sauce with the ubiquitous Maggi boullion cube flavoring it.Salt is used with enthusiasm here. In fact when we visted the Bedick animist villages in Eastern Senegal up on the plateau, salt is one of the valued gifts we brought to the women of the village along with Maggi cubes, soap and Gunpowder Green tea for the men.The tea is boiled, sweetened and strained thru the leaves until it is so strong it tastes like a stringent almost tobacco taste. Men drink this through out the day and you are served it in a small shot glass which is about all you really need.
Another food discovery I enjoy are the omelette sandwiches they make at taxi stands and train stations ( 350 CFA or about 60 cents). On a cold brisk morning in Djamou sitting on a little wooden bench at a small table, a hot omelette served on crisp bagette hit the spot with a glass of Nescafe before we started our ride to Bafelobe.The lady chef with a baby on her back cooked our omelettes on a charcoal brassier on the ground in a small pan with lots of palm oil. I noticed most Africans like to drink add an enormous amount of Sahel super sweetened condensed milk with a tiny teaspoon of coffee for breakfast. It was more like a milk shake than a coffee drink.Some black turbaned Touaregs sitting next to us slurped theirs down starring at us without responding to my “Bonjour”. They may have only spoken Tamashek.
In Bandiagara on our way to the Falaise de Bandigara and the Dogon country, we walked down the dusty street from our hotel with Bill to Le Petit. It is best to ask what they have on the menu that day at a restaurant because even though the printed menu has 40 items, in reality there is really only one dish available and that is what you will eat. That evening they had Ragout de pommes de terres. We ordered 3 of those with cold Castel beers. The Ragout was a delicious stew of potatoes and lamb seasoned with clove served with crispy baguettes. For us the restaurant which was empty of other customers played Bob Marley CD’s. Another food aside is the discovery in Bandiagara of Madame Faida’s homemade Bissap confiture which is hibiscus jam that tastes like blackberries and flowers. We went thru two jars of those in no time.
On our final bike endeavor in western Mali we ended up not arriving at our destination of Bafelobe. In our typical fashion just before darkness we came to a Fula village where Mr. Camara kindly took us into his family compound.He took good care of us offering us hot tea,rice, a much needed bucket bath and bed in a tiny hut.In the morning we were woken up by the bleating of kid goats that sounded almost identical to a child’s crying. They were hopping all around the hut and scrambling on the wood pile playing and butting heads. When the Camara family saw we were awake they started coming to the door of the hut inquiring how we slept and greeting us. Mr. Camara appeared with hot tea and bowls of steaming hot corn meal topped with a spoonful of sugar. It was the ultimate breakfast comfort food that got us started out for the last leg of our journey to Bafelobe.
Finally I want to mention the fabulous Capitaine Bozo at the Bar Bozo in Mopti. I think it is obligatory that one goes to the Bar Bozo because it overlooks the port of Mopti where all the river boats, pinasses and pirogues dock to pick up passengers and cargo bound for Timbucktou, Djenne, Bamako and Massina or as far away as Gao. The boats are decorated and painted colorfully along the stern and bow with the name and date of the boat’s construction. The most amazing thing is how high the boats are piled with cargo on the roof until the gunnels are mere inches above the water. Everything from motorcycles, Fula herdsmen loading their goats, sheep, chickens, oranges, guavas, mattresses, ceramic water vessels, bananas, bicycles are stacked high with passengers tucked where ever they find a spot. The boats pull out once they are filled the boat assistant continuously bailing as they start their journey.
About the Capitaine Bozo. Bozo refers to the fisher people who live along the shores of the Niger and catch the tasty Captaine Nile perch which is cooked in a tomato sauce with onions and bananas. Sounds odd but the taste is something like Asian sweet and sour dishes without the vinegar. The fish is delightful and I have been enjoying it here in Bamako as well.As they say here in Mali ” A Chadi” which is Bambara for “tastes good!”.