Rice is the base of most every meal, and is topped by some kind of sauce with meat. Sauce d’arachide, or peanut sauce, is the most common one, though doesn’t taste much at all like peanuts. Another thing I frequently eat here is a mixture of cut up yams and pieces of goat meat swimming in a sauce that tastes a bit like wet sauce in the US. Since there isn’t any rice to eat the sauce with, one eats this meal with bread. All of the bread here is the French-style baguette, and is crazy long! It is folded up and sold by the boulangeries early each morning.
We mostly eat goat meat, which I’ve gotten used to by now and enjoy. Sometimes we eat chicken, which is much different than in the US. One buys the chicken whole, and guts it out, cleans it with soap, and prepares it from there. This past weekend my host-mom thought it was hilarious that I wasn’t into cleaning out the chicken insides. Pork is never eaten, since the vast majority of Malians are Muslim. My 9 year old host brother was shocked when I told him that Americans eat pig, and thought that I was joking for a good while.
One eats with their hands for each meal, which was initially difficult but I think I’ve got it down pretty good now. The technique is to take a small bit of food, put it in the center of your palm, and roll it together to make it more compact. You then slide it up to your fingertips, and put all four fingers in your mouth to eat. This method of eating is very efficient, and saves a lot of dishes. I think I’m going to try and convince my family to take up this eating-style once I return home- much less dish duty! There’s one big platter for everyone under the age of twenty, which at dinnertime is around twelve or more people. Everyone here adores baby Moussa, but nobody wants to be the one stuck holding him for dinnertime. Holding a squirming baby and eating with so many other people (sort of scrambling for food) off of one platter is pretty tricky. The left-hand is never used, ever. I run into a problem with this when I’m trying to cut apart a piece of meat with just one hand. When the meat is tough, this requires a fair amount of coordination!
One of the first phrases I learned in Bambara upon my arrival was N Fara, which means, “I’m full.” It remains one of the most important phrases in my vocabulary. Everyone loves to grab my forearm or cheek to point out how little fat I have, and proclaim that it is their urgent duty in life to make sure that I eat as much as possible from here on out. While health-wise this renders me worried, it’s not too much of a problem because I absolutely love the Malian cuisine! The flavors are all so wonderful and hopefully I’ll be able to duplicate the meals upon my return to the US!