Guinea-Bissau is a land of forests, and wild oil palms have been growing here for thousands of years. Many oil palms still grow in this small West African country, and communities harvest the large bunches of red fruits, processing them artisanally into a thick, orange oil with scents of tomato, fruit and spices. The oil is not only delicious but also nutritious, rich in carotenoids and vitamin E. In 2011, a Slow Food Presidium was set up to nationally and internationally promote artisanal palm oil from Guinea-Bissau, made only from the fruits of wild “dura” type oil palms using methods in perfect harmony with the surrounding forest environment and the local culture.
Read on for some traditional recipes and more information about Guinea-Bissau’s typical foods. The mapping of Guinea-Bissau’s products is part of a project carried out by Slow Food in collaboration with the FAO, funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, during the conference “Discovering Africa’s Riches, from Millet Couscous to Natural Cola,” the producers themselves will be describing this heritage of plant varieties, animal breeds, food products and recipes.
The industrial stock cube, omnipresent in Guinea-Bissau’s markets and shops, is threatening to wipe out the wide variety of traditional seasonings prepared by local women using the leaves and fruits of many plants, including baguitchi (hibiscus, both the red-flowered variety, used to make a refreshing herbal tea, and the white-flowered variety, grown mostly for its sour-flavored leaves), lemon, oil palm and chili pepper. These traditional seasonings are tastier and healthier, bringing different flavors and colors to the local dishes. Here is one of the many recipes that feature palm oil.
Caldo de Chabéu (Chabéu Soup)
Chabéu is the fruit of the wild oil palm. This soup can be prepared with fish, meat or chicken.
500 g (1 lb) chabéu
1 liter of water
meat, fish or chicken
local djagatu (small, intensely flavored, bright-red eggplant, which looks like a tomato)
1 or 2 sukulbebem (very spicy chili pepper, which looks like a small African eggplant)
Boil the chabéu until the seeds come away from the fruit. Drain and pound the seeds in a mortar. Rinse the resulting mixture with cold water and pass through a sieve. Bring to the boil again and cook until it becomes a thick, red sauce. In another pot, boil the meat, fish or chicken with the djagatu. Stir in the chabéu sauce and continue cooking, adding the manioc and sukulbebem. Serve with hot rice. Add salt according to taste. You’ll be able to taste caldo de chabéu at the African restaurant at the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre.
Different local species of vegetables are grown in small family plots. Every part of the plant is used, giving rich flavor to dishes: the seeds, pods and leaves of niébé (black-eyed peas) can all be eaten, for example, as can the seeds of quiabo (okra), known mostly for its fruit. Almost every part of the nene badadje plant is consumed, including the roots. Peanuts (Arachis hypogaea) and cashews (Anacardium occidentale) are very important in the local cuisine. Both were introduced during the colonial period, and the nuts are ground into a paste, used as the base for sauces and soups. We will be offering a traditional dish using quiabo. The recipe can be found below:
Local names: pcandja, candjé, taco, candja de fula, ncandja
Latin name: Abelmoschus esculentus
Quiabo (okra) plants have beautiful yellow flowers and pale-green tapered pods which can be cooked whole, sliced or in soups. The leaves, candja, are also used in the kitchen, generally boiled and served with rice. Quiabo is easy to grow and has a high yield. The plants are often found in small family vegetable plots, especially in the east of the country. The local variety of the plant can grow up to 3 meters high and has red and green thorns. The fruits are smaller than the non-native variety, which is more visually attractive but considered to be less flavorful.
chopped1 green and 1 red sukulbebem (chili pepper)
30 local variety quiabo6 local variety djagatu (African eggplants), sliced
1 glass red palm oil
Siga can be prepared with meat or fish. Here is a version with shelled king prawns
Sauté the onion, chili peppers and salt. Add the shelled king prawns and sauté briefly, then add some water. Add the quiabo, djagatu, palm oil and a little more water. Cover and leave to cook. Serve with white rice.
Velia Lucidi, Serena Milano