Street Food

To fully discover a country one needs to eat its street foods.

I remember wandering the streets of Guangzhou with my brother looking for something to eat. We ended up at an open store front with tray upon tray of deep fried food on a stick (I once wanted to open a restaurant called “Everything on a Stick.”) At the far left hand side of the middle row was a tray filled with skewers of deep fried baby birds. My brother being who he is (love the kid) went straight for them. As he bit into the first baby bird I remember him saying, “It’s not so much that I can feel the bones breaking or the innards exploding in my mouth. I don’t mind that. The thing I don’t like about this… it tastes AWFUL!” The point of the story being that for Eric and I to understand the culture we needed to taste the food that people grabbed on their way to work, on a date, or window shopping.

While there are no deep fried baby bird sticks here, there is still a very interesting world of street food to be had.

One of the staples of my diet is a wonderful thing called Bui (not sure of the spelling) that I always eat with a Benyay (again… not sure of spelling.) Bui is ground corn (the most common), millet, or tapioca (my favorite and most uncommon) cooked with boiling water. That’s it. When cooked it becomes very liquidy and easily drunk from a bowl. Every morning when I go to school I sit out front before my first class and get 25 CFA (5 cents) worth of Bui (a small bowls worth) and a Benyay (deep fried dough ball) for another 25CFA. One can always tell women that serve Bui because of the large plastic tubs covered with a simple insulator of plastic and cloth sitting on a crude wooden table in front of them. There is something about the warm lumpy stuff that really satisfies an early morning hunger.

Another one of my main food sources is Wachi: rice cooked with beans (everything here is very simple.) You can spot a Wachi women (I like the ring of that…) by a large metal tub that contains a giant lump (the rice and beans) wrapped in plastic and cloth. It is ordered by price (100CFA is what I normally get), scooped out by hand (her RIGHT hand of course! That’s the clean one!) and placed into a plastic bowl. Sitting next to the metal vat are usually an assortment of different size stainless steel, lidded pots. In each pot (sometimes there is only one) is a different sauce (but always palm oil based and very very red.) There is usually the fish chunk sauce (I stay away from that one) and sometimes the overcooked goat chunk sauce (usually stay away from that one… sometimes I get brave or inebriated and end up tearing at a few pieces… not the best idea.) Occasionally you get lucky and mixed in with the fish sauce are pieces of a local “cheese” called Wagash, deep fried to the point of breaking your teeth (SOOO GOOD!) I put cheese in quotes because I’m not 100% sure that it really IS cheese. It is cheese in the sense that milk (or some dairy product) was somehow made hard (my cheese making knowledge is not that extensive). One can purchase Wagash at the market in large red (they die the outside with millet to help preserve it) wheels stacked on a metal tray carefully balanced on a women’s head.


While I love the taste (most of the time) of the street food, my favorite part is the interactions that take place while eating. There is something bonding about sharing the food of another’s culture.

In the future I will write about other street foods and specific eating experiences.

Until then…

13 comments:

Gary said...

Thank you for this. I can all but taste what you've described.

Rob said...

I'll pass on the crunchy Tweety birds, but I'm game for most anything else.
Question: As a left handed person, how do I function there without freaking everyone out? Do I say simply, 'No charge for the added protein'?
Anyway cuz, I really enjoy following your travels via your blog. Well written stuff.

Anonymous said...

Well Aaron, my name is Amon and I am from Togo. What You are calling and spelling "BUY" is actually a french word which correct spelling is BOUILLIE. It is a bit like corn starch but muc more "liquidy". Imagine Liquid mashed potatoe.
And what you are callin and spelling benyay is really french word for BEIGNET. litterarly translates as "doughnut" which I believe is fried too. So there you go. I work in Michigan and my work colleages are very curious about what it's like there. I can never really tell them.

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