International Cooking: Food from Burundi

This is another country I didn’t really know anything about before this challenge. I wasn’t sure what food from Burundi would be like, and I was glad to get a few good suggestions from Reddit.


Burundi is a small landlocked country in East Africa, situated roughly in the middle of the continent, but further towards the east and south.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Burundi was colonized by Germany, then ruled by Belgium, before regaining independence in 1962.

Burundi has experienced assassinations, coups, bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars, and genocides since then. This is the main reason the economy is so underdeveloped, and has contributed to Burundi being the poorest country in the world.

Burundi today is primarily a rural society, and most of its land is used for subsistence agriculture and grazing. This still isn’t enough to sustain everyone in the country, but it has led to the majority of the country being completely deforested, as well as issues with soil erosion and habitat loss.

What Do People Eat in Burundi?

The majority of Burundian land is dedicated to agriculture; coffee, tea, corn, beans, and manioc/cassava are some of the most common crops.

Beans are the staple of Burundi cooking, combined with other local foods such as plantains, sweet potatoes, peas, cassava, maize, and wheat.

Meat is a bit harder to obtain, but lamb and goat are most common, and will often be served in the form of brochettes. A brochette is a skewer on which chunks of meat are grilled, and is popular in many African countries.

What I Made

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

Isombe (Cassava Leaf Stew)

Isombe

Isombe is a thick stew that is also popular in Rwanda. It is made primarily out of cassava leaves, which are cooked with a range of other vegetables, including cabbage, tomato, and eggplant. I used kale instead of cassava leaves, which are not readily available here in the United States. I didn’t include eggplant because the eggplants at the supermarket looked like someone had been playing football with them. Instead, I added a potato. I know that’s not a great substitute, but I figured it would bulk up the dish a bit without changing the flavor too much.

The recipe I used is from Food, but I cut it down a lot since I didn’t want to be eating isombe all week. I also used beef stock instead of including the soup bones.

I wasn’t sure I’d like this, but it was popular on the Burundi subreddit, so I knew I had to try it. It was alright, though probably not something I would make again. I served this with ibiharage, below.

Ibiharage (Beans and Onions)

Ibiharage

Ibiharage is a simple dish consisting of beans, onion, and chili. I used a recipe from The World’s Fare, which also included garlic. Rather than cook the beans from scratch, I cheated and used canned cannellini beans. I cooked them for a short time in chicken stock and salt to add flavor before adding them to the onions.

Because this was so simple, and because I don’t love beans, I wasn’t expecting much. But this actually tasted really good, and it went really well with the isombe.

Maharagwe (Vegetable and Bean Stew)

Maharagwe

Maharagwe, also popular in Kenya, is a stew made of vegetables and beans cooked in coconut milk. I used the recipe from Edible Pioneer Valley, which I followed closely. I just made half the amount and used canned beans.

This wasn’t bad, but it was flavored with allspice and not much else, and I’m not sure I like how it went with the coconut milk and vegetables.

Boko Boko Harees (Chicken and Bulgur)

Boko boko harees

Boko book harees is considered Burundi’s national dish. It’s very simple, consisting of bulgur wheat, onion, and chicken. I really like bulgur, so I was sure this would be pretty good. The recipe I used is from Naptime Prep Cook, which included a topping of turmeric and shallots.

I used whole chicken thighs, which I shredded once cooked. I was supposed to make a turmeric gravy with chicken giblets, but instead I made a turmeric oil to drizzle over the top.

I know this doesn’t look great, but it was really delicious. I served it with a simple salad, though in Burundi it would probably be more traditional to serve with isombe or plantains.

  • Ugali – a thick, dense porridge, traditionally made from millet or sorghum. Nowadays, it is often made from maize. It is very filling and can be eaten on its own, but is more commonly consumed alongside a stew or curry. Ugali is popular in other East African countries too.

Final Thoughts

I found the food from Burundi to be okay, but this wasn’t my favorite week so far. I did really like the boko boko harees. The ibiharage would be my second favorite.

This was the last of the ‘B’ countries! Next week, I’ll be cooking food from Cabo Verde.

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