I lived in this village in Mali, West Africa nearly twenty years ago. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and that experience forever changed the way in which I view my life and the world. I think about my Malian friends often, and especially at Thanksgiving. I am so incredibly grateful for all they taught me about finding joy and laughter throughout every day.
I thought I’d share with you all a little food diary from my visit to Mali this past summer.
This breakfast porridge is called ‘moni.’ It’s made with millet flour that’s rolled into little tiny balls. It has some tang to it from the millet and because we were guests, a little sugar was added (which makes it much better!)
All cooking starts with water, pulled by hand from a well.
For those with enough means, they will take their grain to the village mill.
And those who don’t, pound it the traditional way: by hand with a mortar and pestle. That pestle, by the way, weighs about 20 lbs (9 kilos) and takes hundreds of strokes to grind the grain.
Once it’s ground, the next step is winnowing and sifting the grain.
You may know of the legendary Baobab tree. It’s leaves are the primary ingredient for the traditional sauce.
The other principal ingredients in the sauce are okra and tomatoes — and a Maggi cube (eg bouillon cube).
After cooking the bajeezus out of the millet, you get a texture something akin to hyper-stiff polenta and it’s called ‘toh’ — pronounced like your big Toe. If the name isn’t unappetizing enough, the sauce seals the deal. To eat toh, you take a handful — with the right hand only, please — dip it in the slimey okra/baobab leaf sauce and pop it in your mouth. Mm-mm-good.
The soft food allows everyone from infant to elderly (the toothless ends of the life spectrum) to eat the same meal. It’s all very practical.
During the dry season, gardens yield other delicacies, like sweet potatoes.
For villages flanking the banks of the Niger river, fish is part of the diet. I was fortunate to live in one of these villages, though I must say I did not count myself so fortunate when the fish ended up cooked in the toh sauce.
This gorgeous fruit is called ‘tabacoumba’. I have absolutely no idea if there’s an English name for it. Anyone?
And these are beautiful, ripe melons plucked fresh from the vines. Sadly for you, in my bliss among the mango trees, I failed to capture the absolute rapture of biting into the best mangoes on the face of the planet (mental note to self duly registered).
No afternoon is complete without a round of tea– 3 cups, to be exact. The first is very strong and bitter….and gradually getting lighter and sweeter with the subsequent rounds. Sharing tea is a matter of heartfelt hospitality, and that is an area in which Malians excel.
My time living in Mali left me forever cognizant of the opportunities I have been given in my life, particularly education. If you’ve noticed that my posts have been a little less frequent of late, it is because I launched a non-profit this year called Mali Kalanso.
We’re building a school so the children in these photos can have the opportunity to get an education, break the cycle of poverty and create their own destiny. I’d like to invite you to join us in making a difference.
To contribute and help spread the word, visit MaliKalanso.org. Happy Thanksgiving!
I ni Baara!
I ni ce for your beautiful post with pix. foodies for education.what a great cause. go mali kalanso!
Great post !
Thanks and see you soon !
Kisses from Paris,