FEAST YOUR EYES ON THIS
One of the MANY ways that Ivoirians show their love for others is through food. In fact, it's rare not to hear a new friend insist, "You have to come to my house! I'll feed you well." Here are just some of the delicious gestures of love that I've been lucky enough to enjoy.
If you took coconut water and added a crisp, sparkling white wine, you would have something close to this wonderful glass of palm wine. Bangue is often served sweet (and I mean SWEET), but I prefer it without any added sugar. It goes down easy, is incredibly refreshing, and has a taste that pairs beautifully with most of the staple dishes seen below. The longer it ferments, the more pronounced the fizziness. Since bangue is predominantly made in villages outside the city, it can be hard to come by in Abidjan, and isn't nearly as wide spread of a drink as beer, standard wine, Fanta, or Coke.
This dish was SUPERB! We traveled outside of the city to eat with friends, and this was one of the incredible dishes that we ate at our restaurant, Chez Pedro. Don't be put off by the crocodile scales - this was one of my favorite meals so far in Côte d'Ivoire! The meat was really similar to the texture of crab meat, and the accompanying sauce was thin, spicy, and zesty. The crocodile was served with rice, and - per usual - we ate it with our right hands, scooping the meat out with our fingers.
Though crocodile isn't exactly a common dish here (we had to travel outside of the city to eat it), it certainly was worth the trip!
Unfortunately, this isn't an animal with which most American readers will be familiar - I certainly wasn't. Agouti is basically a big hampster that predominantly lives in "the bush" of Côte d'Ivoire. During the Ebola crisis, it was actually illegal to sell agouti meat, but as is clear from the photo, agouti is back on the market!
Agouti is like a tender, juicy steak. My friend, Mr. Gnana, had his with tomatoes and onions, attièkè, and a beer.
Hold onto your plates. This next dish is ... squirrel!
Admittedly, I wasn't the biggest fan; the meat was chewy and unflavorful compared to most of our other meals. The dish, however, still made a lasting impression.
When preparing écureuil, the cook skins the squirrel, chops it up, and plops it in a pot where it marinades with the sauce. But when I say, "chops it up," I mean chops it all up. Please direct your attention to the squirrel tail dangling off the side of the bowl, and the mound of meat towards the left - that would be the squirrel's head. Suffice it to say, Ivorians don't waste food, and my friend, Jean Claude, ate every last bit.
poisson, ATTIÈKÈ, ALLOCO, PATATES, piedmont, tomates & onions
This picture was taken at one of our favorite maquis. Debbie had just received some good news, so we decided to feast with poisson braisé (fried fish), alloco, patates, attièkè, tomates & onions, and some beer. As the photo might suggest, the fish is incredibly fresh, and super delicious. Though I still haven't completely mastered the art of eating all the meat on a fish (as most Ivorians deftly do), we still did a pretty good job.
Also, to put into perspective how crazy the exchange rate is and how inexpensive street food is: our total for this feast of 2 whole fish, 2 bowls of attièkè, tomatoes & onions, a bowl of alloco, 2 beers, and a bottle of water was CFA 4,200 or ~ $7. Conversely, a pizza here can easily cost $20. C'est fou!
couscous, poisson, tomates & onions
Not the snazziest picture, but a really good lunch! There's a Senegalese woman who comes to our school most days and sells a delicious meal of couscous, fish, tomatoes, and onions with her own special sauce. Though couscous is less common in Côte d'Ivoire, you can still find it in markets, in western grocery stores (which on principle, I'm reluctant to visit), and in the Collège Moderne de Cocody teachers' lounge in front of this ETA :)
Oh, how to describe the importance of "la sauce" in Ivorian cuisine. Nearly everyone with whom I speak takes an enormous amount of pride in their sauce, and also assures me that their sauce is the best. I think the pride - and competitiveness - comes from the fact that there are so many different types of sauces, and no single, uniform way to make it.
I'll continue to add sauces as I eat them, but a good rule of thumb: they're served with meat and rice (sometimes attièkè) and they are FULL of flavor! This is a meal Marie Louise made me of fish, sauce claire, and rice.
I especially loved this dish of foutou because some of my own elbow grease went into making it. Foutou is typically made with bananas or yams (foutou banane is particularly popular in Côte d'Ivoire). In either case, you boil the base until it is soft and then pound it in a mortar with a large pestle. The continued pounding ultimately changes the consistency from soft and chunky to gooey and smooth. At that point, you mold the base into balls and serve it with sauces like sauce arachide (peanut sauce), sauce feuille (leaf sauce), sauce gombo (okra sauce), sauce claire (clear sauce) or sauce graine (palm sauce).
This is some foutou that we made one Sunday at our friend, Liz's, house.
Honestly, I'm LOCO FOR ALLOCO. Can't say enough about how much I love this sweet side dish! Alloco are fried bananas, and taste exactly like plantains. In the street, you can find vendors selling another variation of the dish where the bananas are grilled over a fire instead of fried in a pan. Especially with a savory chicken, attièkè, and tomatoes & onions - alloco is simply amazing.
These look like regular potatoes but taste more like sweet potatoes. Naturally and lightly sweet, soft to bite into, and often served fried, patates are easily one of my favorite side dishes for a meal.
Attièkè is a staple of Ivorian food, and thus the very first feature on the food page! Ivorians make attièkè by grinding up cassava, a starchy tuberous root, mixing the ground cassava with previously fermented cassava, and then leaving the grains out to dry. I often describe attièkè as having the texture of a sturdy couscous and the taste of a light sourdough bread. As is the case with most foods in Côte d'Ivoire, we eat attièkè with our right hands. Normally, you'll find this staple coupled with a protein (fish, chicken, etc.), another starch (alloco, patate), and a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and piedmont (spice!).