There is a saying here that goes “if you haven’t eaten rice today, then you haven’t eaten.” You can eat all the boiled cassava, fufu, plantains, bread, sweet potatoes, yams, cocoa yams or a number of other carbs your heart desires…but if you haven’t eaten rice, you have not eaten. Rice…is life.
To show you just how serious they are about rice, here are 2 short stories:
- To prove her point about important rice was to Liberians, my friend Zipporah was telling me a story about her 10 year old daughter. A couple of days ago her daughter came to her telling her that her stomach hurt and that she felt sick because she had not eaten rice that day. Zipporah then proceeded to make rice, feed it to her daughter, and just like magic…her tummy ache had resolved. Zipporah herself rolled her eyes and so did I. LOL.
- As I was talking with farmers about what crops grow when they mentioned that the “hunger season” was coming soon in September. I didn’t understand…wasn’t September still the rainy season? Weren’t crops bountiful during the rainy season? Didn’t I just learn that I ton of crops were being harvested now and in the upcoming months? I was so confused. So I asked “Are there plantains?” I asked. “Yes” they said. “Are there pineapples? Potato greens? Oranges? Squash?” I asked. “Yes” they said. “Is there cassava?” I asked. “Yes, of course there is cassava” they replied. “Why is it called the hunger season then?” “Rice. There is no rice this time of year.”
RICE is life…it is what Liberian food is all about. And yet….85% of Liberia’s rice is imported rather than grown in country. More on that topic later….
Back to the food. With each meal you are served some an enormously large portion size of some type of carbohydrate, usually rice of fufu (which is boiled, pounded, fermented cassava served in a ball…it is the consistency of playdough). With that carb usually comes some type of soup/sauce that you pour over said carb. So far I have tried a few different “soups” and some I like better than others. All soups seem to basically have the same base…which is water, oil oil oil, hot peppers, dried fish, and one or more of the following ingredients:
- Potato greens (ground up and boiled to a paste…not bad with lots of salt)
- Country tomatoes (small cherry tomatoes that grow wild and cultivated)
- Cassava leaves (ground up and boiled to a paste…not bad…don’t taste the difference between this and potato greens)
- Palm butter (made with the oils harvested from the palm tree nuts…I’m telling myself it is the “good kind of fats” since I’m now eating what feels like a half a pound per day)
- Peppe (spicy spicy spicy…poor Nathan)
- Okra (making for an extra slimy textured soup…)
- Bitterball (a bitter small vegetable that is in the eggplant family)
- Country bean (large or small beans cooked with lots of salt, not bad)
- Chicken (my favorite…even if I do find little chicken hairs/feathers sprinkled throughout)
- More fish (with all the tiny bones still cooked in…your choice whether to spend hours picking them out or just crunch down and enjoy the extra calcium…I’m voting for the calcium these days)
- Other form of meat (maybe goat, cow, or bush meat)
- Snails (haven’t tried this one yet but I see the snails everywhere at market and sometimes my front door)
- Ground nut (peanut butter mixed with water…not very appetizing but unique)
- Sesame seed paste (I do like this…yummm)
- Ohhh and did I mention….OIL?
It is definitely taking me some time to get used to all the oil, carbs, and fishy taste in just about every dish but I am coming around to a few of the soups. I am so thankful that now we are living in our own home that I can cook for myself again! Although I’m not making quite the variety of foods I used to back in the US, I am starting to do different things with the potatoes, rice, and noodles that my gut and palate are more accustomed too. My favorites so far are fried rice, mashed potatoes, spaghetti (with tomato sauce rather than the Liberian classic served with oil and chopped up hot dogs) and vegetable medleys (all coated with a healthy sprinkle of Old Bay of course).
In addition to the meals there are a few snacks with mentioning that I am really falling in love with and might get my waistline in trouble this year due mainly to the fact that they are dirt cheap and and they are being sold about every 10 feet on the road.
- Boiled peanuts (I know we have them in the US, but I had never tried them…yummm!)
- Fried plantains (I’ve had them in Central America…love them!)
- Plantain chips (almost as good as potato chips)
- “flour chips” (like fried tortilla strips? I’m not really sure what they are but they are good)
- Coconut patties (basically dried coconut and sugar patties…ummm yes!)
- Coconut balls (same as above, but my friend Comfort makes them with a secret ingredient….ginger!)
- Peanut brittle (not quite as crunchy due to the 100% humidity here all the time but delicious!)
- Milk candies (caramels made with evaporated milk)
- Doughnuts (fried dough with a hint of sugar and then sugar on top)
- Coconut cookies (a cookie with coconut flour)
- Doughnut cookies (basically the doughnut mix turned into a small cookie)
- Sesame cookies (like sesame candies)
- Sour Milk (frozen yogurt…in lots of different flavors….sold in little plastic baggies for 20cents…this will be the death of me…so cheap and soooo good!)
- Lychee (or monkey apples as they are called here is a sweet/sour little fruit nice for dessert)
- Kanya balls (made from dried cassava, sugar, peanut butter, and milk…tastes like a peanut butter graham cracker pie crust in a ball)
- Cassava pastries (muffins and cookies without much sugar that are made from cassava flour)
- Calah (fried dough balls served with peppe sauce and ketchup. sweet and spicy!)
- Sausage (aka boiled wrinkly hot dogs….basically my only safe source of street “meat”)
The fruits and veggies readily available in Kakata: cucumber, oranges, lemons/limes, bitterball, coconut, plantains, bananas, okra, eggplant, and onion.
The fruits and veggies that are harder to find right now but still available if you look hard: squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, papaya, guava, garlic, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, apples, watermelon.
Foods I miss from home: red meat, chocolate, peaches, cheese, butter, crispy salads, and Chickfila (obviously).
There ya go…those are my thoughts on food here in Liberia. I will now entertain any and all questions you may have on food in Liberia. I will also take any recipe suggestions you can offer based on the list of my available ingredients 😉 Thanks!