International Cooking: Food from Burkina Faso

I didn’t know anything about food from Burkina Faso before this week. I also did not get much of a response from Reddit, so I had to mostly rely on my own research when working out what to make.


Burkina Faso, previously known as the Republic of Upper Volta, is a landlocked country in West Africa.

The Mossi people settled the area in the 11th and 13th centuries; they are still the largest ethnic group in the country. In 1896, France colonized the region as part of French West Africa, before it gained independence in 1960. French remains Burkina Faso’s official language.

In the years since then, the country has suffered from corruption, droughts, famines, and general instability. This may be why Burkina Faso is one of the world’s least developed countries. Islamic terrorists operate within the country and neighboring regions. Over 1 million of the country’s 21 million inhabitants are internally displaced persons, meaning they have been forced to leave their homes but remain within the country.

What Do People Eat in Burkina Faso?

Burkinabé cuisine is based on staple foods including peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams, and okra. The most commonly eaten grains are rice, maize, and millet, and grilled meat is popular when it’s available.

Probably the most common food is , which is a bland mash of grains. It’s often served with a vegetable sauce, but it’s also a common accompaniment to any stew.

There are some French influences, but these would probably be more evident if Burkina Faso was not such a poor country. Ingredients are typically limited to what can be easily obtained, and imported products are only just starting to become more common in urban areas.

What I Made

Scroll down to read about other popular Bukinabé dishes I didn’t make!

Ragout d’Igname (Beef and Yam Stew)

Ragout d'Igname

Ragout d’igname, meaning ‘yam stew’ in French, is popular in many West African countries, but particularly in Burkina Faso. This typically contains beef, yam, tomato, and onion as the main flavors. The recipe I used, from At Home World Traveler, included garlic, ginger, carrots, and chili.

I didn’t use yams because the grocery store didn’t have any, even though I’m sure they’ve had them before. I used sweet potatoes instead. Contrary to what appears to be popular belief here in the United States, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing. Yams are starchier and more similar to a regular potato, whereas sweet potatoes are sweeter (obviously!) and softer when cooked.

I also cooked the beef for a lot longer than the recipe specified, since in my experience, stewing cuts take at least an hour to become tender, usually more. I think I cooked this for close to two hours, but I added the vegetables in later in the cooking process so they wouldn’t get mushy.

This stew was alright, but it didn’t really feel that different from a regular beef stew. I served it with tô (next dish), which made for a good combination. But I don’t think I would make this again.

Tô (Cornmeal Mash)

To

It turns out many African countries have some kind of cornmeal (or other grain) mash that is served with everything. Tô is Burkina Faso’s version, and it is traditionally made with sorghum or millet, but can also be made with cornmeal or rice flour.

I had white cornmeal left over from the pap I made for Botswana, so I used that. I followed a simple recipe from Congo Cookbook and I did just use water, as written. The result was bland, as you would expect, but that’s intended. This was thicker than the pap and came out looking very similar to mashed potato. In fact, if you added butter, milk, and salt, maybe it would even taste similar. I served it with the ragout d’lgname, where it soaked up the stew’s flavor.

Ragout d'Igname and To

I am probably going to cheat and just use chicken stock next time a similar dish comes up. The pap from Botswana was quite good on its own, but the tô wasn’t and I accidentally made more than I needed for the amount of stew I made.

Riz Gras (‘Fat Rice’)

Rizgras

Riz gras is named after the French term for ‘fat rice’. It probably got its name from the amount of oil used in the dish. There are many variations, but it’s essentially a dish made of rice and a variety of vegetables. Meat can be included too.

I followed a recipe from Hot Eats and Cool Reads, which includes chicken (I used thighs), garlic, onion, tomato, and jalapeños. I had some carrot and bell pepper that I needed to use up, so I added them too. I chopped the vegetables instead of using the food processor, and then proceeded with the recipe.

This was an extremely simple dish, but somehow, it came out tasting amazing!

Bissap (Hibiscus Tea)

Bissap

Bissap is tea made from hibiscus flowers, and it’s popular in many parts of Africa, as well as in the Caribbean and Mexico. It is very easy to make; all you have to do is add dried hibiscus flowers and water to a saucepan and boil for ten minutes or so. There are many optional flavorings you can add, such as vanilla, orange blossom water, pineapple juice, and mint, but I used vanilla. The tea is usually sweetened to taste; I didn’t want to make it too sweet so I only added about a tablespoon of sugar.

I thought this was pretty good and it suited the weather, since it’s been hot here. I’m not sure I’d keep a stash of hibiscus flowers on hand just for making this though.

If you want to try making bissap, I followed the recipe from International Cuisine.

  • Babenda – a thick stew-like dish made from fermented locust beans, bitter greens, and rice. Dried fish is often added too.

Final Thoughts

I found it interesting to try food from Burkina Faso. I’d heard of hibiscus-flavored drinks before and was glad to have the opportunity to try one. My favorite dish by far was the riz gras.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Burundi.

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