I ni gwa
You and the kitchen
[A Bamanan thank you to the cook following a meal]
Ka suma i kono
May it (the food) be cool in your stomach
[The woman's reply]
In every Malian culture it is the women who prepare the family
meals. Only in the 20th century did men enter the kitchen - and
not in their own homes but as cooks for European colonizers and,
later, as chefs in restaurants. Women learn to cook from their mothers,
beginning as young girls. When they marry, they take their repertoire
of dishes with them to their husband's home. As young brides they
also learn from their mothers-in-law how to make their husband's
family's favorite foods. Special dishes may be made for particular
events; for example, jibato naji (birthing sauce) is a very
spicy tripe, fish, or poultry soup that is intended to promote lactation
and is given to women in childbirth.
Each region and ethnic group has a specific cuisine that is linked
to its traditions, tastes, history, and mode of production. Nomadic
populations such as the Tuareg and Fulani, whose main activity is
herding, base their cuisine on milk, yogurt, and butter. Bamanan,
Dogon, and Senoufo farmers use cereal grains such as millet, corn,
and fonio in cooking, and rice serves as the staple in the flood
plains of the Niger River. Intermarriage among ethnic groups has
expanded families' repertoires of favorite dishes.
Most dishes consist of a starch made either from millet or corn
flour, or steamed millet couscous or rice. The starches are then
enlivened with meat, fish, or vegetable sauces made with combinations
of onions and beans, okra, shea or peanut butter, and seasoned with
garlic, salt, red peppers, and other local spices. Tubers such as
yams and sweet potatoes are also important staples.
Culinary practices and attitudes toward food are changing with
the times. Traditionally, meals are cooked on a hearth made of three
stones, or in terra cotta ovens fueled with wood or dried manure,
but the use of charcoal has spread in cities, as have metal stoves.
Earthenware pottery has largely been replaced by metal cooking pots
that conduct heat better. The diet of most of the countryside was
based almost exclusively on the processing of local products; now,
as a result of greater contact with cities, new products of European
origin can be found in rural villages.