We inaugurate our new column “Gourmonde” and our journey through the cuisines of the world entering a house of Kigali, in Rwanda, a country located in the center of the African continent. Ilaria, an Italian anthropologist, and Desiré, her Rwandan husband, virtually welcome us, together with their daughter, the little Thalia. We have been chatting about Rwandan culinary habits and traditions and this is what they told us!*
“WAKE UP! IT’S TIME FOR BREAKFAST!”Rwandans use to have breakfast with the leftovers of the dinner of the day before, which they cook in abundance precisely to leave a part for the next morning meal. They sometimes prepare breakfast the same morning, using sweet potatoes, usually boiled, and they complement them with tea with milk or hot milk (boiled to pasteurize) and some bread, similar to the Indian chapati: unleavened and unexpanded. At times a sort of porridge with white wheat and milk is also prepared.
“COME AND EAT! LUNCH IS READY!”The main food that you find on a daily basis on Rwandans’ table is cassava. Its root is cut and boiled together with potatoes and black beans. It is also reduced to flour and prepared as a dough with a sticky texture, cooked with tomatoes and served with peanut sauce and/or meat sauce. Rice and legumes, especially beans, are likewise often eaten.
“BEST WISHES!” – TRADITIONAL FESTIVE DISHES In Rwanda there is no “Sunday lunch”, as it happens in Italy. Elaborated meals are intended for celebrations such as weddings, funerals or religious feasts, in which a lavish BBQ is served. Thanks to mild weather through the whole year, actually Rwandans often use the grill, on which they cook beef or goat meat, reared and slaughtered at home, but on special occasions they grill an entire bull! They don’t side it with vegetables instead with potatoes and plantains, grilled too and complemented with tomato sauce. The large use of potatoes, also fried, is an heritage linked to Belgian colonization!
MISCELLANEA OF TRIVIA
There are lots of other culinary habits, unusual for us, that deserve to be narrated.
Milk Cows are almost sacred and milk is the basic drink, taken also during main meals. Fermented milk is called ikivuguto. A large amount of this nourishment is consumed and no case of lactose intolerance has been reported! There is also a ritual associated with milk: it is offered as a sign of integration in a new family or social group. It is handed over with the two hands, often in an empty pumpkin, and to reject it is considered an offense.
Rwandans, however, do not eat cheese and just little of yogurt, therefore there is a constant overproduction of milk.The Rwandan Government has announced that the first industry of milk powder is about to open, precisely for helping farmers and producers of milk and avoid wastage.
Butter It is largely used and often is still produced at home, especially in the countryside. Traditional butter, made by women, is called ikimuri. The milk used for its production, called Amacunda, is taken only by women and children because according to local belief, it could cause a loss of virility in men. Even though its excellent nutritional properties, the traditional homemade butter is now considered illegal. It is still used for hair and body care.
Oil In the Rwandans countryside it is barely used and it is replaced with butter. In town instead, beside butter, seed and peanut oil is utilized and frying is a very popular cooking method.
Desserts In the Rwandan cuisine desserts are almost unknown. Only fruits are eaten at the end of a meal. They sometimes eat a sort of pancake, similar to crêpes, cakes similar to plum-cakes, or deep-fried potatoes, root of cassava, sweet bananas or bread. But it happens for a snack and not at the end of a meal. Only for special occasions you can find glazed sponge cake, most of the time without cream nor fillings.
Alcohol Rwandans usually drink two types of beer: the first, urwagwa, made of banana and the second one, ikigage, made of sorghum, sometimes still prepared at home, also in the countryside. There are imported beers and wines but their quality is poor compared to the expensive prices.
Street-Food Rwandans consider inappropriate eating in public. Street-food trucks or vendors are therefore absent and very seldom Rwandans eat on public transports, on the streets or in a park, despite the mild climate. Food is still considered a means of sustenance and not a real pleasure.
Our journey continues, let’s jump on the plane of taste and set a course for the next month’s destination: Slovakia!
*We remind you that the presentation of the column, with the description of the 4 sections, can be found on the number of September of Cibi.
Margherita La Francesca