International Cooking: Food from Burundi

Burundi is a landlocked country in Africa, located roughly in the middle of the continent, but further towards the east and south. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was ruled by Germany and then Belgium, before regaining independence in 1962. The country has experienced assassinations, coups, bouts of ethnic cleansing, two civil wars, and genocides since then. This is the main reason the economy is so underdeveloped, and why the people are among the poorest in the world.

After reading all this, I wasn’t sure what I could make to represent Burundian cuisine. I wasn’t even very confident in receiving input on Reddit, but thankfully I did get some good suggestions.

What Do People Eat in Burundi?

80% of Burundi’s surface is dedicated to agriculture, yet this still isn’t enough to sustain everyone in the country. Coffee, tea, corn, beans, and manioc 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. Like many African countries, Burundi has its own cassava flour/maize side dish called ugali.

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.

What I Made

Isombe (Cassava Leaf Stew)


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 exactly 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. I added a potato instead, to help bulk it up.

The recipe I used is from, 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 really sure I’d like this, but it was very 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 is a simple dish consisting of beans, onion, and chili. I used a recipe from The World’s Fare, which also included garlic. I cheated and used canned cannellini beans rather than cook the beans myself. 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, 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 really 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. I got the recipe 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 some kind of turmeric gravy situation with chicken giblets, but I did not buy the giblets, so 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 maybe in Burundi it would be more traditional to serve with isombe or plantains.

Final Thoughts

This wasn’t a bad week, though definitely not one of the best. I really liked 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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