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Benin - Cooking and Food
Overview of Beninese Cuisine History
The Republic of Benin is located in the west side of Africa on the northern coast of the Gulf of Guinea. Benin was a French colony from 1892 to 1899, becoming afterwards a part of the west side of French West Africa until 1960 when it becomes an independent state. Benin borders in the north with Niger, in the south with the Gulf of Guinea, in the east with Nigeria and in the west with Togo. Due to the fact that for about one century Benin was under French occupation, the Beninese cuisine reflects several French influences. We can discover in Beninese cuisine, recipes which have a French flair but that don’t change that many the traditional recipes first of all because the ingredients need it are very expansive. The traditional Beninese meals are rich in rice, corn, beans, yams, cassava and millet while the most popular meat found in Benin is fish and Chicken. Because Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world, the meat is consumed only for special occasions. Due to the fact that Benin is located in an equatorial climate area the vegetation is abundant and their cuisine is heavy on vegetarian dishes.
Benin is divided in two major regions: the south where the main form of relief is coastal plain which are fertile soil and the north region which includes mostly savannas and semiarid plateaus. Giving the relief difference between these two regions, the culinary style is also very different.
In the south of Benin the most common ingredient is the corn. The corn is used in preparing the dough which is mainly served with Peanut or tomato-based sauces. The most common meat type used in the southern cuisine is fish and Chicken, but we can also find goat, Beef and bush rat. The meat is fried in palm or peanut oil. As for vegetables the most popular are rice, beans, tomatoes and couscous. Fruits are very easy to find in this region especially oranges, bananas, mandarin oranges, pineapples, kiwi, avocado, peanuts.
While the corn is considered as the staple food of the southern population, the yam is the staple in the northern parts. Like in the southern provinces the yams are served with Peanut or tomato-based sauces. The population from the Northern provinces prefers Beef and Pork meat which is also fried in palm or peanut oil or it is cooked in sauces. Cheese is also frequently used in preparing some dishes. rice, couscous, and beans are as well regularly eaten; as for fruits the most commonly eaten are mango, oranges, and avocado.
Benin is recognized all over Africa for its exotic dishes and its exotic ingredients which provide a unique taste. Because in Benin the meat is quite expensive the meals are light on meat and generous on vegetable fat.
Preparation Methods for Beninese Cooking
Although the Beninese meals are light on meat they have various modes of preparing it. The most common mode of preparing the meat is frying it; they fry the meat in palm or peanut oil. Another mode of consuming the meat, especially the fish, is either fresh or smoked; when smoked, they are subjected to such powerful warmth that they are almost burnt outside. A traditional recipe for preparing Chicken is the so- called Chicken on the spit; the Chicken is roasted on firewood. rice is prepared in a variety of ways: porridges, breads, cakes, boiled and served with a soup or stew. The people from Benin eat a lot of fresh meals served with a variety of sauces. A special mode of preparing palm roots is cutting them in small pieces and putting them afterwards in a jar full of salty water and sliced garlic, in a sunny place for at least twenty four hours, in order to soften; the obtained mixture can be served as dressing for smoked fish. For preparing corn flour, used for preparing dough, the people from Benin have special grinding equipments. The dough is served with peanuts or tomato-based sauces.
Special Equipment for Beninese Cooking
The most common tools used in Beninese cuisine are: the frying pan, the stew pan, the non-stick pan, the garlic presser, the vegetable masher and the wooden spoon. People from Benin generally make their own cooking equipment, expect in the big cities were they buy it. The traditional Beninese pots are made in different shapes and sizes according to the size of a family. Because they prepare their butter at home, like Peanut butter, they also need a blender which is also used for preparing their special sauces. In Benin, people pre pare their food on mud stoves which are kept outside their houses. In order to prepare the so called Chicken on the spit, they put a wooden stick in the Chicken and they keep it above firewood until it is roasted. Very common in Beninese cuisine is the smoked fish which requires cooking in a special smoking stove.
Beninese Food Traditions and Festivals
In Benin are held many tradition and festivals. The national holidays are National Day (August 1), Christmas day (December 25), The New Years Day (January 1), the national holiday Voodoo (January 10) and Labor Day (May 1). All these holidays are celebrated with special food traditions. There are two major religions groups in Benin the indigenes and the voodoo which have specific traditions and celebrations. For special occasions people from Benin make a stew from sea shelves, tomatoes, Onion and the local hot sauce named pilipili. Another special sauce served only in special occasions is the lamounou dessi made of fish, smoked shrimps, vegetables and chilies. As the meat is very expansive in Benin, they serve it only on holidays and other ceremonies like wedding, baptize. A special dish served in special occasions is “Lamb stewed in peanuts sauce” and also the famous Dahomey fish stew which are both very old recipes. The traditional festivals offer a proper occasion for general, cultural and artistic displays which are punctuated by rich and diversified attractions.
People in Beninese Food
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In Benin the cooking and preparing of the food is mostly done by the women. Women have to organize the daily meals according to their financial possibilities and according to the accessibility of the ingredients. Even if they are one of the poorest countries in the world, the people from Benin are very hospitable when they have guests. People from Benin are proud to treat their guests with traditional home cooked meals. The first dish served for the guests are the wonderful fruits salads; were they combine various types of fruits like mango, oranges, pineapples, bananas.
The restaurants have menus heavy on fruits and vegetables salads and we can see some French influences, which remained generally in the most famous restaurants from Benin. Benin is known for having the most varied food in western Africa. In Benin the main dishes are served with rice or corn dough instead of bread.