What are they eating in the Ivory Coast? FuFu and washing it down with Bangui.
As we explore the globe for interesting recipes from countries far from our shores (which we can make in our own kitchens), today we land in the Cote d'Ivoire for a taste of their National dish,FuFu, which is also called and spelled foofoo, foufou or foutou. FuFu is a staple food of West and Central Africa; a thick paste usually made by boiling starchy root vegetables in water and then pounding. In neighboring French speaking Africa it’s known as Couscous, but in no way resembles what Westerners think of as couscous. Is this absolutely scintillating or absolutely confusing? Let’s dig a bit and see.
The Ashanti Tribe in Ghana is credited with creating the concept of FuFu, pronouncing it FuFuo and eating it with stews, meats and fish and in soups such as tomato, palm nut or peanut. In Ashanti, the word FuFu is thought to mean “White”, the color of FuFu and “Pounding”, how they make it, which is described here by a son whose mom had a restaurant where it was served.
“My mother was one of the pioneer restaurateurs in Kumasi, the capital city of the Ashanti region of Ghana. Among the popular dishes she served was FuFu. Ghanaians called such a restaurant a "chop bar". What was needed to make FuFu were banana resembling plantains and cassava which we called, tapioca.
“After peeling off the skin, she would cut the plantain and cassava into pieces then cook them to make them soft. When I was old enough, that’s when I took over. With a hand made mortar and pestle, my job, with the aid of my younger sister, was to pound the mix. She put the cooked plaintains and Cassava into the mortar one piece at a time and I did the crushing, making sure every piece was well pounded."
“How mom know when the mix was ready was by the sound of my pounding. At first, the pounding sounded like wood hitting wood. But as I continued, the sound changed as the pestle began to go in and out of the dough repeatedly tossing and turning it inside the mortar. The sound became "Fu-Fu, Fu-Fu,". Soon people began ordering it by that sound, just asking for FuFu.”
Elsewhere in West Africa, though the ingredients change, the name remains FuFu, as it is in Nigeria. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa FuFu changes both it’s name and its ingredients. There it’s made by adding maize flour and is called, Ugali, the same name used in Kenya and Tanzania. In Zambia, its called Nshima. It’s Nsima in Malawi, Sazda in Zimbabwe, Pap in South Africa, Posho in Uganda, Luku, FuFu, Nshima, Moteke, Bugari in the Congo and Phaletshe in Botswana.
FuFu also has Caribbean stamps on its passport, being known in Cuba, The Dominican Republic (Mangu), Haiti and Puerto Rico (Mofongo). Since, most Caribbean Islands have plantains and yams, they’re what gets mashed in with the island’s vegetables. The most obvious differences between the African and Caribbean FuFu are its texture and taste, because of the different local ingredients used. To an African, Caribbean FuFu will seem firmer and less doughy. In Puerto Rico that’s accomplished by first frying the mix, then mashing it while adding broth and olive oil.
What is interesting is that all the countries in some way refer to the finished dish as FuFu and while some countries make FuFu by pounding as they do in Ghana, others make it on a stove or fire, with corn flour or some other thickener added.
The commonality, regardless of where it’s being eaten is how it’s eaten. Always with well washed hands. In some countries, a ball of FuFu has an indentation on top in which food is put as if it were a bowl. When finished the bowl is also eaten.
In other countries it’s eaten not by putting food into FuFu, but by putting Fufu into the food, especially if the meal is a soup.
If you remember my earlier South African Bunny Chow story told of how Indian migrant workers brought to South Africa to work the Port Natal sugar cane plantations solved their problem of how to carry their lunch into the fields. Their solution was a FuFu. They hollowed out a loaf of bread and created a curry bowl.
Isn’t that similar to what we do in Europe and the States, scooping the soft dough out of a small, round bread or Italian Loaf to make a soup bowl from the crust, especially for Clam Chowder or Chili? When the stuffing is finished, we also eat the bowl. Small world isn’t it?
In our recipe today, we’re making FuFu the easy Ivory Coast way, which requires just four ingredients, 2 pounds of White Yams, 2 tablespoons of Butter, Salt and pepper. No thickener and NO pounding. It serves 4 – 6.
1. Place Yams on the stove in a large pot filled with cold water.
2. Bring to a boil.
3. Cook over medium-high heat until yams are cooked through and tender.
4. Drain and let cool.
5. After they’ve cooled, peel the yams and chop them into large pieces.
6. Reheat the yams, while mashing smooth with a potato masher or ricer.
7. Place in a large bowl.
8. Mix in butter, salt and pepper.
9. With wet hands, form a large ball.
10.Serve with meat or fish, or put your FuFu into a bowl of soup.
Ivoirians prefer eating with others. They believe that those blessed with enough to eat should share their good fortune with others. In the villages meals are usually eaten community style, since the wise men have decreed that being with others at a table unites all. That’s why meals served on grass floor mats are taken in groups, one for women and girls, another of young boys and then the adult men and elders.
Village elders always eat first to taste if any of the food is spoiled. When they suspect it is, they stop the younger members, especially young children from eating it. Once everyone is assured that the bad food has been eliminated and the rest of the food is safe, they begin to eat, obeying a number of meal rules. One is never to reach across a table for food; it’s thought to be rude and selfish. Another is that to cough, sneeze or talk during a meal is frowned on. When someone needs to cough or sneeze, they walk away from the mat.
After everyone has eaten, a bowl of heated water is passed around for hand cleansing. Then, while diners digest their meal, talking is resumed. Bowls of fruit are served, nothing fancy, just fresh local seasonal fruits.
With the fruits, bottles of Bangui (BAN-kee) thought to be a digestive are served. Bangui is a natural White Wine made from Palm Tree sap which contains no additives or preservatives. This probably is a carry over from the French who like to end their meals with a "Digestif"
Another favorite drink is low alcohol ginger beer. Children drink Youki Soda, a sweet flavored tonic water.
So, here’s to FuFu (remember to use your right hand), then wish your table mates “Ufurahie chakula chako”, (Swahili singular) or “Furahieni chakula chenu”, (Swahili plural), or in Africaanize – “Smaaklike ete! Lekker eet!” (“Enjoy the taste of delicious food), or, if like many Ivorians, you’re still under the French influence, “Bon Appetit”.
Next week, we visit a Japanese city, any Japanese City or your favorite neighborhood Japanese Restaurant for a Bento Box lunch. The Bento are the handsome lacquered boxes which line the shelf behind Sushi bars. It’s what the Chef fills with his daily specials for his steady customers, or the school lunch box Japanese children carry to school. What’s in your Bento?
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