Food is deeply integrated into all cultures, and it’s often the poorest countries who take the most pride in their meals. Food brings people together, even if the distance never changes.
Cassava, being available year round, is the staple food, though there are Arabic, French and Asian influences in Congolese cuisine. It’s common to grill or boil insects such as caterpillar, crickets and grasshoppers while bananas and local vegetables are common. A simple dish, called saka saka is made from cassava leaves cooked with palm oil and peanut sauce.
The national dish, called sadza, is based on cornmeal and generally served with a vegetable stew. Meats such as beef, springbok, kudu and goat are consumed regularly by those who can afford it, but those who cannot rely on a wide variety of fried insect for protein.
The majority of Zimbabweans are Christian, so Christmas is widely celebrated. Often an animal is roasted on a spit for hours to be shared by the entire village.
The Burundi diet is heavy in carbohydrates such as corn, millet, sorghum, cassava and sweet potatoes. Cassava is typically boiled and mashed into a porridge that’s used to school up a vegetable sauce. Beans are the most common source of protein as meat is rare, though fish is regularly eaten by those who live beside Lake Tanganyika.
Locally-brewed beers are common and accepted as part of the social interaction when families negotiate over a marriage. There are many food customs that revolve around cows, which are considered sacred. Milk cannot be heated or drunk on the same day that peas or peanuts are eaten, and when a cow dies its horns are planted beside the family’s house to bring good luck.
Typically found in Liberian meals are cassava, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, ginger, palm oil and no meal is complete without rice. Cassava is sometimes boiled and then pounded into what is called a dumboy, and sauces made from the Cassava leaf over beef or chicken are a traditional favorite.
Goats, cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens are all commonly raised and eaten while fish consumption is low, regardless of Eritrea’s proximity to the Red Sea. The base of most meals is either kitcha – a thin wheat bread – or injera – a spongy pancake made from taff. Food is typically served in a communal bowl and eaters use the kitcha or injera to pinch out some of the main course.
Since Eritrea was once an Italian colony, tourists often find spaghetti, lasagna and pizza in the country’s restaurants. Blended drinks with bananas, mango and papaya are common, and three drinks share the title of ‘national beverage’: suwa, an alcoholic drink similar to beer; meis, a fermented honey drink; and Araki, an anise-flavored liquor.
Meat is scarce and expensive, so nuts and insects serve as daily protein. The base of most meals is usually millet or sorghum, and vegetables and spices such as garlic, onions, chiles, okra and peanuts are gradationally used to add flavor.
Specialties include palm butter soup, futu – pounded cassava – and foutou – pounded plantains. Palm wine and banana wine are the favorite local beverages.
As a desert country, Niger’s citizens rely on grains that can be stored for long periods of time like millet and rice. Beef and mutton often serve as the main interest in the meal, and a local favorite is dumplings made from crushed and fermented millet and cooked in milk, sugar and spices.
Those who border Lake Chad have access to fresh mish and the vegetables used in European, Asian and African dishes. The country is predominantly Islamic and so alcohol isn’t easily available. Instead, tae is the drink of choice and is available from carts beside the road.
Rural Malawian families all play a part in growing maize, the staple of their diet. Cooked maize is shaped into patties that are called nsima, and family members eat from the communal bowl while sitting in a circle on the ground. The bowl typically contains a variation of ndiwo, a sauce made with beans, meat or vegetables, and the nsima is used to scoop out a mouth-full at a time.
Those who boarder Lake Malawi eat a great deal of fish, and they dry what they don’t eat to sell to the neighbors. Chambo (the same fish used to make Western tilapia) is a popular favorite.
Those who have a history in Madagascar have left their mark on the cuisine; therefore finding dishes that belong to France, parts of Africa, the Indonesians and Arabs is common. Traditional meals are eaten on the floor and eaten with spoons from a large communal plate. Ro – rice mixed with herbs and leaves – is the base of most meals, and Ravitoto – meat and herbs – is generally its counterpart. No beverages accompany the meal, but there is a popular drink called Ranonapango which is made by burning rice.
The country’s neighbors, the Pashtuns, Tajiks and Uzbeks, heavily influence Afghanistan’s menu. India’s spices such as saffron, coriander, cardamom and black pepper are also prevalent as well as naan, an Indian flat bread that can be made in a wide variety. Rice is present in most meals, and lamb is the preferred meat.
Perhaps the most popular dish in Afghanistan is qabli pulao, a streamed rice dish topped with raisins, carrots and some kind of meat. Kababs are also a local favorite, ranging from lamb, ribs or chicken and served with a side of naan. Qorma is a dish made up of a bed of fried onions and layered with fruit, meat, spices and vegetables.
In many of the world’s poorest countries, there is only one meal a day. The women in a family traditionally will start cooking first thing in the morning, and the day’s meal is eaten in the early afternoon. Many times food is eaten with the hands out of communal bowls, making clean water a great necessity for public health and hygiene. Sharing food is a sign of respect and welcome so that guests are often fed at the cost of the family going hungry. Food is important in every nation as it binds us together at the same time that it allows us to demonstrate our heritage and creativity.
– Lydia Caswell