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Cooking well in a poor country

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It’s hard. Burkina Faso ranked 175th out of 177 countries in the 2005 UNDP Human Development Report.

Needless to say, it’s been challenging cooking here. First of all, there’s a reason why you don’t see Burkinabé restaurants. The local food is uninspiring and is based on the assumption that you will be picking cotton 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a season. The rest of the year you are eking out a meager existence. Secondly, we are in the Sahel, that is to say, the bottom edge of the Sahara. Poor soil and little rainfall means not much variety or quantity. (That’s probably why the cuisine here doesn’t resemble traditional Southern cooking or coastal West African food, where fruits and veggies grew easily. Also the fresh water fish are tasteless and the frozen fish from the coast are of questionable health standards.) So food here is highly seasonal, expensive, and of inconsistent quality. Fruits and veggies are best just after harvest (November – December – January) when coincidentally the weather is coolest. In the following months, tomatoes shrink and some foods disappear altogether.

Plus “exotic” ingredients are either expensive imports or expensive homegrown products. $5 for a kilo of apples! That said, I’ve been able to use most of my cookbooks here, with a little tweaking. Happily, given the large Lebanese and Libyan communities here, M has no problems finding ingredients to cook Moroccan food. And there are some surprising delights: basil flourishes in our tiny garden, strawberries in their brief season (mainly February) are refreshingly sweet, mangoes are juicy and large, and the papaya tree in the back reliably drops heavy fruit.
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On March 2nd, 2006 03:58 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Cooking badly in a rich country
Now, I haven't seen any numbers lately, but last I checked, Switzerland has one of the highest per-capita wealth/income of any country in the world. And not only do they grow tons of good food locally, they also have right at hand the produce of many other countries - and it is all truly lovely. Yet, the Swiss 'cuisine' is abysmal...as I said to my office mate the other day, if I have to eat ONE MORE EFFING SERVING OF (INSERT TYPE OF MEAT HERE) strips in cream sauce (called Geschnetzeltes) with noodles and/or potatoes, I will have a come-apart for sure. And they are often wont to take the lovely veggies and overcook the life out of them. They do appreciate salads here, I have to give them props for that - and since I too love salad, well, that bit works. And I do enjoy one or two fondues a year (but not more than that...ack). But the food is generally quite bland (even though it's not BAD per se, just more boring) and lacking in variety. Alas, I LONG for some spicy food and I settle for loading on the Tabasco at home. :-)

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On March 3rd, 2006 08:21 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
Re: Cooking badly in a rich country
Maybe coping with long cold winters is the caloric equivalent to cotton-harvesting season? Believe it or not, there is an Austrian restaurant here. I imagine that's similar to Swiss cuisine...if not even a tad bit more boring!
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On March 2nd, 2006 07:36 pm (UTC), mokey4 commented:
are there western-style grocery stores there like there are in accra? it's weird, the main thing that was different about accra when i lived there in 2004 (as opposed to when i visited often in 97-99) was that there were a TON of grocery stores. but only really in accra, because only rich ghanaians and ex-pats (non peace corps) could afford to shop there. the variety was nothing like in the US, but you could get a decent amount of stuff. as a vegetarian it was still challenging to eat healthily.
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On March 3rd, 2006 08:17 am (UTC), ticklethepear replied:
There are but they're pretty crappy compared to the ones in Accra. When we went last Nov. I bought enough goodies at Koala to fill an extra suitcase. I like buying American products made in South Africa, like pancake syrup, which you can't get here. Sigh. (Funny to think that we were in Accra at the same time - when I was in Bamako 2003-2004 I visited Accra at least 4 times.)

Re vegetarian life, att least in Ghana there are Indian restaurants. There is one here in Ouaga but the one time we went they ran out of basmati rice! I don't know how vegetarians manage here in BF. When our VP for overseas ops, who's a vegetarian who lived in India for 10+ years and is married to an Indian, came out for a visit we had to send with him bags of beans and rice on the field trips. The Burkinabé staff remarked that he was the first vegetarian they've met who wasn't a young white American woman!
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