Growing up in Burundi, in the Eastern part of Africa, there were dishes we ate at least once a month. Sitting at the dinner table in my home in Bujumbura, my mom served food in bowls to keep it warm. A bowl of different dishes, such as cassava leaves or boiled banana, would be passed around and everyone would take a portion to put on their plate.
These traditional dishes can also be found in other western African countries but may be cooked differently.
Ubugari is one of my favourite dishes. In Kenya, it is called ugali. The common name for this dish is fufu.
To this day, I still don’t know how to make it.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, fufu originated from Ghana where it was only made from cassava that was pounded and turned into flour. Fufu flour can also be made from yam, corn or wheat. The popular flour used to make fufu in Burundi is cassava flour. That’s what my mother uses.
A bag of fufu can cost $10 to $15 and is made in different ways but pounding comes in, whichever way you make it. Before you make fufu, a side dish needs to be prepared.
Some like to mix fufu with cassava leaves which we call Isombe in Kirundi, the language of Burundi. You can also eat fufu with black beans or the usual meat stew. In any case, there has to be a side dish that goes along with fufu because one can never eat it by itself.
If you’re wondering how it tastes, the closest dish I can think of is mashed potatoes minus butter, salt and milk. In other words, it tastes like nothing. Fufu is a vehicle for the side dish. It looks like a ball of dough. Often, fufu is placed where everyone can reach and each person has their own side dish, whether meat stew or something else.
There are rules on how to eat it fufu. They might sound ridiculous to those who are not familiar with them but culturally, they are a big deal.
First, one cannot eat fufu with a fork or spoon. You have to eat it with your hands. You take a bite-size portion off of the ball of fufu, split in two pieces and dip one piece in the sauce.
The second rule is that you can never leave the sauce from the stew or side dish on the fufu plate. If you do, and you are sharing the fufu with another person, that person might leave the table if the sauce gets on the fufu.
The last rule is to not chew fufu if you’re eating it with stew. This is optional, as some people might not feel comfortable swallowing something without chewing first. A lot of people in Burundi say if you chew fufu, you’re not eating it properly.
Here is how you make fufu.
– Boil water for about five minutes.
– Set the temperature as high as possible.
– Pour out 1 full cup of fufu flour in the pot when the water has boiled.
– Start by slowly mixing it with a long pestle.
– When the flour starts getting sticky, start pounding it.
– Pound it for five minutes to make it solid.
– Can add more flour if it’s watery.
– Stop pounding when the flour changes colour.
– Use a spatula to remove some of the fufu on the pestle.
– Pat it with the spatula by dipping it in the water, while it’s still in the pot for it to have some kind of form.
– Flip it on the plate so it doesn’t lose the form.
– Pat the fufu again on the plate.
– Once it looks like a dough, it’s ready to serve.