This week I got to a country I’m pretty sure I had never heard of before (sorry Benin!) It was difficult to find information on food from Benin and their subreddit appeared pretty dead. There was even a similar food-related post to the one I wanted to make that had gone unanswered for over a week, so I decided I would have to rely on my own research.
Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, is a small tropical country on the coast of West Africa.
So many people were taken from Dahomey as slaves during the early 17th century that the region was referred to as the Slave Coast. Later, France incorporated the territory into French West Africa.
Dahomey gained independence from France in 1960 and has had a range of different governments since then. It wasn’t until a military coup in 1975 that the country was renamed Benin.
Benin is one of the least developed countries and its economy is highly dependent on agriculture.
What Do People Eat in Benin?
Upon reading that Benin used to be a French colony, I had thought there may be some French influences in their cuisine. Perhaps they are there, but I couldn’t really see them. Even though one dish I made this week has a French name, the dish itself isn’t very French. (After writing this, I realize all these dishes probably have French names in Benin because that’s the main language. This is just the only one I happened to find the French name for.)
Staple ingredients include maize, tomatoes, rice, beans, couscous, and yams. Often, they will be served with peanut or tomato-based sauces.
Meat tends to be pretty expensive in Benin, so a lot of dishes are light on meat. Instead, Beninese people can fill up on peanut-based dishes and beans, and they cook just about everything in palm or peanut oil. When meat is available, fish and chicken are the most common in southern Benin, while beef and pork are more popular in the northern provinces. Goat and bush rat are also consumed.
What I Made
- Dahomey Fish Stew
- Moyo de Poulet Fume (Smoked Chicken in Sauce)
- Beninese Peanut Soup
- Kuli-Kuli (Roasted Peanut Snack)
Scroll down to read about other popular Beninese dishes I didn’t make!
Dahomey Fish Stew
This fish stew is named after Benin’s original name, Dahomey. It’s a very basic dish with a short list of ingredients: fish, red palm oil, tomatoes, onions, and fish stock. It is usually served with rice, which is how I served it. Despite its simplicity, this came out tasting really good. I used cod for the fish, which you may have noticed by now is my go-to white fish. I also used chicken stock because I was only making a small portion and didn’t want to have leftover fish stock lying around.
The recipe I used is from Eat This NY.
Moyo de Poulet Fume (Smoked Chicken in Sauce)
This is another simple dish, usually made with smoked chicken. I admit I probably could have obtained smoked chicken if I wanted to, but I came across this recipe on Today.com which includes a rotisserie chicken and smoked paprika to give that smokey taste. The only other ingredients were onions, tomato, soy sauce, habanero, and a little peanut oil. I used bone-in chicken thighs instead of the rotisserie chicken and cooked it with the other ingredients until done. Then I shredded it and put it back in the sauce. This ended up being really delicious!
I was actually looking for a recipe for ‘monyo sauce’ when I came across this. I don’t know if it’s meant to be a variation on the same thing, just a misspelling, or something completely different. ‘Monyo sauce’ is apparently made with onions, mustard, and oil, and is used in chicken and fish dishes, but I couldn’t find much else on it.
Beninese Peanut Soup
Peanut soup is common in many African countries, and I knew I wanted to try it at least once. I used the recipe from The Food Dictator which is supposed to be a Beninese variation. There are a lot of ingredients, including coconut milk, sweet potato, peanut butter, and Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend. I adjusted the recipe a little, because the first step had you dumping in all the ingredients minus the garnishes. I prefer to cook the vegetables a little bit first. So I added a little oil, then the vegetables, and cooked until the onions were turning translucent. Then I added the spices and cooked for another minute or so before adding the liquids and simmering until the sweet potato was cooked through. After that, I followed the recipe as written, except I omitted the chickpeas completely since I didn’t want to open a can only to use them as a garnish.
I think my old immersion blender was struggling so the soup was probably not as smooth as it should have been. But it did end up tasting pretty good, similar to satay sauce. It made for kind of a heavy meal though. I think it would have been better in a small portion, served with a salad.
I wasn’t too excited about making this, to be honest, but kuli-kuli is Benin’s national dish so I knew I had to try it. These are made by blending peanuts and a few spices, which vary depending on who’s making them. The peanut paste is shaped and then fried in peanut oil. I don’t know if it was my fault or the recipe’s, but my kuli-kuli were starting to disintegrate the moment I started frying them. Perhaps the mixture needed to be smoother; the recipe only said to make a malleable paste, which is what I did. These four kuli-kuli are the ones that held together the best. They didn’t taste that good even though I like peanuts; they were somehow really dry, as if they had lost all their oil once they were fried.
Other Popular Beninese Dishes
- Han kpete – pork marinated with local spices, then cooked in tomato sauce or grilled.
- Yovo doko – this is Benin’s fried dough dish! It’s a street food made of flour, water, yeast, and sugar, deep-fried and served with powdered sugar.
- Ago glain – a crab dish seasoned with onion, tomato, peanut butter, lime juice, and chili. It’s often served with rice.
Out of the food from Benin I made this week, I probably enjoyed the moyo de poulet fume the most. The Dahomey fish stew and peanut soup were also good but the kuli-kuli… not so much!
Next week, I will be cooking food from Bhutan.