Sunday, May 2, 2010

Eating in Africa

New Delights, New Adventures

While you are traveling and on the field, your taste buds will be treated to a new delight every meal. You can try fried grasshoppers if you would like, but we do not normally eat things really strange like zebu hump, cow stomach or tail, goat head, or anything that moves on the plate. However, we do eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in season, grains, noodles, milk, beef, fish, and eggs in African, French, and American recipes. Good chicken is a little harder to come by. French baguette bread loaves are almost always available. Imported foods such as cheese and ham are very expensive. Rarely would one find a Diet Coke or Mt Dew.

Preferences and Allergies

Daily shopping and food preparation take a great amount of time and effort to make sure that you have something healthy to eat at every meal and a balanced diet throughout the week. So, be adventurous and try at least a spoonful of everything without complaining. You will not be served cheese with your "whines". We will be willing to alter menus for serious food allergies, such as nuts (hives or anaphylactic shock), but not for food preferences. The noted exception: If you are required medically to be on a certain diet (we’re not talking here fad diets or preferences) you will need to contact us and tell us about it; you will probably need to bring your food with you and / or plan on preparing your own meals.

Meal Plans and Costs

Your daily costs have been based on a pre-arranged eating plan fashioned around your work and travel schedule. Usually breakfast will be a fix-it-yourself-on-the-way-out-the-door kind of thing. Noon meals could be a sack lunch eaten in the bush or a prepared in-house, light lunch. Evening meals are prepared in-house or eaten out at a restaurant. Some teams will be doing some of their own meal preparation. Filtered water is provided in missionary homes and at the guesthouse; bottled water is available for about one dollar / bottle at personal expense. Again, we will not serve you food we will not eat ourselves.

Restaurants/ Little Tables and Trays

While traveling through most West African capital cities, good restaurants are available. In Niamey, Ouagadougou, Bamako, and Timbuktu prices range from three to twenty dollars per meal, dress is casual to classy. We will not take you to a place where we think you will become sick.

You may want to be adventurous and sample the local cuisine from little tables on the street or from trays on people’s heads. Beware! Sample only when the food comes straight from the fire and put into a clean plastic, disposable bag. Ask us for recommendations before you dig in.


Perhaps your team members have been asked to bring their own breakfasts or other meals that will be eaten out of the house. There are no fast foods, nor can we consistently find single-serving foods in Niamey. This is a good opportunity to pick and choose exactly what you like to eat; bring some of your favorite lunch box treats. Perhaps you can even work out a few swaps from your roommate. Just a stroll down the aisles of your local grocery store or Wal-Mart will help you find all sorts of possibilities of packable, lunch box/ single serving/ snack-sized goodies. Bring a balance of salty and sweet. Choose pop-top containers rather than needing a can opener. Put each meal in a zip-lock bag, with a napkin and plastic utensils; this will help to contain in-flight spills, allow you to see what you are actually bringing per meal, and provide a ready made trash sack.

Suggestions from previous teams:

Breakfast: individual instant oatmeal packages, cereal, pop-tarts, power bars, granola bars, instant grits, dried fruit, powdered juice, instant coffee, powdered milk (much better cold…just add an ice cube after mixing)

Lunch: single serving meals of any type – tuna salad, chicken salad, peanut butter, Vienna sausages… crackers, Eat-a-snacks, dried fruit, nuts, trail mix, granola bars, fruit cups (pop them in the freezer when you arrive), pudding cups

Please note that you will need to pack your food in your checked luggage as canned items contain liquid and peanut butter is considered a paste. They will be confiscated by security at the airport.

Do Not Waste Food

Your mother always told you about the starving children in Africa; everything she told you was true. She was right all along! While you are here you will meet some of these starving children face-to-face. They beg on every corner. They are rummaging through the trash heap as you leave the restaurant. They are watching you eat in the village; they will eagerly eat what you thoughtlessly threw down in the sand and drink the last swallow of coke in your can after you discard it. So, do not waste food, especially in front of them.

Hospitality is a Virtue

Hospitality is a virtue in Songhai culture, as is the receiving of this hospitality. They are probably offering you the very best they have in the very best container, and they will seat you in their best, perhaps only chair. The invitation to dinner in a Songhai home is, “Come put your feet on the mat!” Slurp your tea very loudly to express your thanks. Burping and spitting out bones on the floor are habits acceptable in Songhai homes only. When you are offered food or drink in someone’s home and you do not care for anything, keep a smile on your face and graciously say “No, thank you, I am not thirsty/ hungry.”

When your food comes straight out of the fire, it is ok to eat. Do not ask what it is, you might not want to know. The dish you are offered will often be the entire meal for the whole family. The guest will get to dig in first. So, eat a small amount from the side of the plate nearest to you, leaving most for the rest of the family. Eat ONLY with your right hand and DO NOT lick your fingers. “A ma ye ni gunda ra!” It literally means, “May it cool in your stomach.” You will recognize its French equivalent, “Bon app├ętit!”

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