1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
The Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (which means "ivory
coast" in French), on the south coast of the western bulge of
Africa, has an area of 322,460 square kilometers (124,502 square miles).
Comparatively, the area occupied by Côte d'Ivoire is slightly
larger than the state of New Mexico. The greater part of Côte
d'Ivoire is a vast plateau, tilted gently toward the Atlantic,
although the Guinea Highlands (in the northwest, from Man to Odienné)
have peaks higher than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet).
The greatest annual rainfall, 198 centimeters (78 inches), is along the
coast and in the southwest. The coastal region has a long dry season from
December to mid-May, followed by heavy rains from mid-May to mid-July, a
short dry season from mid-July to October, and lighter rains in October
and November. Farther north, there is only one wet and one dry season,
with rainfall heaviest in summer.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
Thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the 1460s,
independent tribes occupied present-day Côte d'Ivoire. They
survived mostly on gathered seeds and fruits and hunted animals. Foods and
eating habits were most likely influenced by outsiders who used the land
as trade routes from as early as the 700s. Little, however, is known about
the early inhabitants.
By the late 1400s, the Portuguese began to show a significant interest in
Côte d'Ivoire. They were interested in spreading Christianity,
purchasing slaves, and discovering new trade routes. The Portuguese soon
established several trading centers along the country's coast, but
poor coastal harbors helped to spare the country from the build up of a
large slave trade. However, the
Europeans desperately sought the country's supply of ivory (from
the tusks of elephants) and gold, so trading and exploitation of these
goods continued. The country's nickname, the Ivory Coast,
originated because of the country's well-known supply of ivory. In
return for the gold and ivory, the Portuguese brought European weapons and
cassava, now a daily staple, to the Ivoirians.
By the mid-1800s, French merchants discovered the large amounts ivory and
gold that originated from Côte d'Ivoire. In exchange for money
and the promise of French protection, France was given permission to take
control of the country's coastal trade routes. With the hopes of
planting profitable cash crops (crops grown to make money), the French
began planting coffee, cocoa, and palm oil (an essential ingredient for
preparing African food) along the coast. Eventually one-third of the
cocoa, coffee, and banana plantations belonged to the French.
As a result of France's push towards a strong economy based on cash
crops, Côte d'Ivoire continued to mass-produce several crops
after gaining its independence from France in 1960. Côte
d'Ivoire is the world's leading producer of cocoa, and is
the third largest producer of coffee in the world (behind Brazil and
Columbia). More than one-quarter of the population works with the
production of cocoa. Côte d'Ivoire also became Africa's
leading exporter of pineapples and palm oil. Unfortunately, many of the
country's rainforests have been destroyed in order to plant more
cocoa (and other cash crop) plantations. Corn, rice, millet, and yams have
also thrived, but mostly as crops eaten by the people of Côte
Aloko (Fried Bananas)
- 5 bananas
- Cut the bananas lengthwise, then into little pieces.
- Pour about 4 inches of oil into a saucepan and heat until boiling.
- Place ½ of the sliced bananas into the oil.
- Fry both sides until reddish-brown, then very carefully remove.
- Fry the other ½, then remove.
- Serve immediately alone, or with grilled fish.
Serves 4 to 6.
- ¾ cup margarine
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1¼ cups flour
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a mixing bowl, beat margarine and sugar together until light and
- Add the egg and vanilla and beat well.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking
- Slowly add the dry ingredients to the margarine mixture and mix well.
Drop dough in spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet and bake for 15
Makes 3 dozen.
3 FOODS OF THE IVOIRIANS
Côte d'Ivoire's roughly 60 ethnic groups bring
diversity to the country's cuisine. Each group has developed a diet
that is suitable to their lifestyle. The Agni and Abron groups survive by
farming cocoa and coffee. The Senufo peoples live in the country's
northern savanna (treeless plain). They cultivate rice, yams, peanuts, and
millet (a type of grain). Rice with a peppery peanut sauce is often
enjoyed by the Senufo people. The Dioula of the far northwest depend on
their cultivation of rice, millet, and peanuts to survive, while the
Kulango people of the north, who are mostly farmers, grow yams, corn,
peanuts, and watermelons. Those living near the coast enjoy a wide variety
Despite varying diets and food customs, the people of Côte
d'Ivoire generally rely on grains and tubers (root vegetables) to
sustain their diet. Yams, plantains (similar to bananas), rice, millet,
corn, and peanuts (known as groundnuts in Africa) are staple foods
throughout the country. At least one of these is typically an ingredient
in most dishes. The national dish is
(FOO-fue), plantains, cassava, or yams pounded into a sticky dough and
served with a seasoned meat (often chicken) and vegetable sauce called
(KED-gen-ooh). As with most meals, it is typically eaten with the hands,
rather than utensils.
is most often prepared from peanuts, eggplant, okra, or tomatoes.
(AT-tee-eck-ee) is a popular side dish. Similar to the tiny pasta grains
of couscous, it is a porridge made from grated cassava.
For those who can afford meat, chicken and fish are favorites among
Ivoirians. Most of the population, however, enjoys an abundance of
vegetables and grains accompanied by various sauces. Several spicy dishes,
particularly soups and stews, have hot peppers to enrich their flavors.
Fresh fruits are the typical dessert, often accompanied by
(BAN-kee), a local white palm wine or ginger beer. Children are fond of
soft drinks such as Youki Soda, a slightly sweeter version of tonic water.
Often the best place to sample the country's local cuisine is at an
outdoor market, a street vendor, or a
, a restaurant unique to Côte d'Ivoire. These reasonably
priced outdoor restaurants are scattered throughout the country and are
growing in popularity. To be considered a
, the restaurant must sell braised food (food that has been cooked over a
low fire). The popular meats of chicken and fish are the most commonly
braised food and are usually served with onions and tomatoes. Rice,
are also sold.
Fufu (Boiled Cassava and Plantains)
2½ cups cassava (also called manioc or yucca); do not use very
center of cassava
- 5 plantains; do not use very center of plantains
Prepare the cassava and plantains by peeling them, slicing them
lengthwise, and removing the woody core. Then cut the cassava and
plantains into chunks and place in a large saucepan. Cover with water.
Heat the water to boiling, and then lower heat to simmer. Simmer the
cassava and plantains until tender (about 20 minutes). Drain.
Return the pan to low heat and pound, mash, and stir the mixture, using
a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add a sprinkling of water to keep the
mixture from sticking. Continue pounding and mashing for 15 minutes,
until the mixture is smooth.
- Form into balls and serve.
Cassava has a glossy, brittle skin, and is typically 6 to 8 inches
Melon Fingers with Lime
Melon Fingers make a delicious and refreshing dessert.
- 1 large honeydew, chilled
- 1 lime
Cut the melon into eighths, or sections, about 1-inch wide and remove
Next make cuts cross-wise about ¾-inch wide across each melon
- Arrange the slices on a large serving plate.
Section the lime and place a slice of lime in the center of each melon
To make melon fingers, slice a honeydew melon, remove the seeds, and
make cuts across each melon slice.
Kedjenou (Seasoned Meat and Vegetable Sauce)
- 2 chickens, cut into pieces
- 3 large onions, chopped
- 6 tomatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 piece ginger root, peeled
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt, to taste
- Hot red pepper, to taste
Place the chicken, onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and bay leaf in a
heavy casserole dish.
- Season with the salt and pepper.
Cover with a thick, tight-fitting lid that will not let any steam
- Put the casserole on medium to high heat.
When the ingredients start to simmer, turn the heat down to medium to
Remove the casserole from the heat and without removing the lid, shake
the casserole well to stir up the contents so that it cooks evenly.
- Repeat this procedure every 5 minutes for 35 to 40 minutes.
Place the contents of the casserole on a warm platter and serve with
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Most (65 percent) of Côte d'Ivoire's population follows
traditional African religions. They honor their ancestors and believe in
the spirits of nature. Even the other two major religions of the country,
Christianity (12 percent) and Islam (23 percent), often combine
traditional practices with their faith. Some traditional religions
recognize sorcery and witchcraft, particularly those living in rural
Probably the most anticipated time of the year for Muslims (believers of
Islam) is Ramadan, a monthlong observance in which food and drink are not
consumed between sunrise and sunset.
, the feast that ends this fasting month, lasts two to ten days. The feast
may include a variety of seasoned meats with sauce, rice, yam or eggplant,
salads, and soups or stews.
(the feast of the sacrifice) starts on the tenth day of the last month of
the Islamic calendar. After prayers, the head of each household typically
sacrifices (kills) a sheep, camel, or an ox. It is often eaten that
evening for dinner and is shared with those who could not afford to
purchase an animal to sacrifice.
Christians, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, observe such holidays as
Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. Similar to the custom of Muslims on
their special days, Christians gather with family and friends on Christian
holidays to enjoy a meal together. Cities are often decorated with bright
lights and decorations, and people gather in the streets to sell fruits
and other items.
, the Christmas Eve dinner served after midnight mass, is often considered
the most important meal of the year. A Yule log is traditionally eaten as
a special dessert.
Eid al-Fitr Menu
Chilled avocado soup
The people of Côte d'Ivoire also celebrate secular
(nonreligious) holidays such as National Day (December 7), commemorating
the country's independence, and New Year's Day (January 1).
At the beginning of harvest time, yam festivals take place to honor the
spirits who they believe protect their crops each year. To celebrate, the
Kulango people exchange gifts and eat a meal of mashed yams and soup and
participate in dances and song. Some villagers celebrate the harvest of
other important crops, including rice.
- 5 cups yam pieces, boiled until soft
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 Tablespoon butter, room temperature
- Salt, to taste
- 1 egg yolk, beaten
- Nutmeg and cinnamon, for dusting
- Mash the soft yam pieces in a mixing bowl.
Gradually add the beaten egg, butter, and salt, mixing well to make sure
that all ingredients are blended.
Spoon the mashed yam into an oven-proof casserole dish and spread the
top with the beaten egg yolk.
- Place it in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Sprinkle the top with nutmeg and cinnamon.
Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Chilled Avocado Soup
- 2 ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
- 4 cups cold chicken or vegetable stock (2 14-ounce cans)
- 2 Tablespoons lime juice
- 1 Tablespoon plain yogurt
- 2 dashes Tabasco sauce, or to taste
- Salt and pepper
- 4 paper-thin lime slices, for garnish
- Add the avocado flesh to a blender and puree.
- Add the stock and continue blending until smooth.
- Blend in the lime juice, yogurt, Tabasco sauce, and salt and pepper.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
When ready to serve, spoon into bowls and top each with a thin slice of
Calalou (Vegetable Stew)
- Cooking oil
2 to 3 pounds meat (red meat, poultry, or fish), cut into bite-sized
2 pounds greens (traditionally cassava leaves, taro leaves, sorrel
leaves; substitute mustard greens or spinach), stems removed and cleaned
(note that taro greens must be boiled for a short time, then rinsed)
- 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup dried shrimp
- Garlic, minced (optional)
- Salt, pepper, or cayenne pepper, to taste
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- Heat the oil in a large pot.
- Fry the meat and onion until the meat is browned.
Add all the remaining ingredients and enough water to partially cover
- Cover, reduce heat, and simmer on a very low heat for 2 or more hours.
- Serve with rice.
Serves 6 to 8.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
Some of the country's most tasty food can be found in
people's homes. The Ivoirians are generous, hospitable people who
enjoy inviting others to join them for a meal. Ivoirians believe that
those who are blessed enough to be able to prepare a meal should share
their good fortune with others.
In a typical village, villagers eat together in a common area. They
believe eating not only gives the body nourishment, but also unites people
with community spirit. Women and girls eat as one group, men as another,
and young boys as a third group. Most villagers eat on a large mat placed
on the ground. With their right hand (the left is considered dirty),
villagers will scoop up their food from large bowls placed in the center
of the mat for everyone to share. Most often rice is rolled into a tight
ball and is used to scoop up meat and sauce.
The eldest villagers eat first. They do this in order to detect any
contaminated or sour food. If bad food is suspected, the elder members
will stop the younger members, including children, from eating from the
Once everyone has begun eating, there are some rules that are followed. It
is considered rude and selfish to reach across the table for food.
Villagers want to make certain that everyone receives similar amounts of
food. Coughing, sneezing, and talking during the meal is discouraged. If a
person needs to cough or sneeze, it is customary to get up and walk away
from the mat before doing so. After the meal is over, a bowl of water is
passed around to cleanse the hands. Talking amongst the villagers will
typically resume as the diners relax to digest their meal.
- 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
- 4 pimentos (a type of pepper)
- 20 cherry tomatoes, mashed
- Meat (beef, chicken, or fish)
- Pinch of salt
- 1 Tablespoon oil
- ½ small onion
- Place the peanut butter in a pot and add 4 Tablespoons water.
- Mix well until it is sauce-like and add 1 cup water.
Bring the sauce to a boil and add 2 more cups of water over a 25-minute
- Add the pimentos.
- Take 12 cherry tomatoes, remove the seeds, and mash.
Add the tomato mash and another 4 cups of water to the sauce and
continue to boil.
After 50 minutes of boiling, add 2½ more cups of water, then let it
boil again gently for 20 minutes.
Add precooked meat of choice and a pinch of salt and keep boiling for an
addition 35 minutes.
Add the remaining cherry tomatoes, prepared as before, the oil, and the
- Cook for at least 15 more minutes.
Serves 4 to 6.
Avocado with Groundnut Dressing
- 2 ripe avocados (should feel soft when ripe)
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 Tablespoons peanuts, shelled
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- Cayenne, to taste
- Salt, to taste
- Peel the avocados and cut out the pit.
- Cut the avocados into cubes.
- Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside.
Grind the peanuts roughly with a rolling pin or in a grinder for a few
- Mix the peanuts and spices well and sprinkle over avocados.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
About 15 percent of the population of Côte d'Ivoire is
classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not
receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of
five, about onequarter are both underweight and stunted (short for their
The ripe avocados for Avocado with Groundnut Dressing have pebbly
black skin and creamy, soft flesh. The large pit in the center is
7 FURTHER STUDY
De Leschery, Karen, "More Fonio, Less Hard Work."
. January/February 1997: 38-39.
Côte d'Ivoire: Cultures of the World.
Tarrytown, N.Y.: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2000.
Webster, Cassandra Hughes.
Mother Africa's Table: A Chronicle of Celebration through West
African & African American Recipes and Cultural Traditions
. New York: Doubleday, 1998.
ed. Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty. Ltd., 1999.
Ivoirian Cookbook. [Online] Available
(accessed April 23, 2001).
Ivory Coast Recipes. [Online] Available
(accessed April 23, 2001).
The Congo Cookbook. [Online] Available
(accessed April 23, 2001).
World Travel Guide. [Online] Available
(accessed April 23, 2001).