Friday, February 25, 2011

Rwandan Cuisine

Rwandan food varies from place to place. However, some common themes are putting tomatoes in everything and lots and lots of starches.
Corn (not sweet corn), plantains, potatoes, irish potatoes, white sweet potatoes, cassava root and rice are all cheap and easy to come by.

Because of the rainforest climate in Mibirizi, you can stick any plant into the ground and expect it to grow, but it’s very surprising what you find and don’t find at the market (No garlic? No bell peppers? No celery? No carrots? Ever!?-- don't worry mom I'm taking those multi-vitamins you sent). I bought elephant garlic in Kamembe and stuck a few cloves in the ground and they shot up. Carrots were too precious, so I just ate them.

Nearness to the Congo and Lake Kivu also influences local food options. Congolese people generally like to eat meat more often than Rwandans. And there is enough Congolese influence in this district so that people from my area are known across Rwanda as people who really like their meat. But meat is expensive and hard to find in Mibirizi, so sambaza (small fish) or injanga (dried small fish) from the lake will do when meat is not available.

Pictured at the top is one of my favorite Rwandan foods, agatogo—a hearty stew that is salty, tomato-y and, because we’re in Mibirizi, fishy. (In Nyanza, where I trained, this was always made with tripe instead of dried fish). Agatogo is a good high protein food because it has meat/fish and ground peanuts in the sauce. I’m not sure if anybody will try to make this at home and I can't remember ever buying plantains or ground peanuts at the grocery store, but here’s a recipe to show how I make it here:

2 onions
3-4 small tomatoes
5 cloves garlic
7-8 green plantains
handful of injanga
~2 tablespoons ground peanuts
oil and salt

1) Begin charcoal grill, blanch and mash tomatoes, chop onions and garlic, peel and wash plantains.

2) Put a pot on the grill and add oil. Wait for oil to become hot and then add onions. Fry onions until they are limp, then add garlic and fry until the onions are brown and sweet smelling.

3) Add tomatoes and cook until sauce-like. Add water to thin the sauce out and then add salt until it tastes a little too salty (plantains will absorb the salt).

4) Add plantains. Sauce should partially cover plantains. Mix ingredients and add water if necessary (to prevent burning). Cover and cook for 5 minutes.

5) Add injanga and stir ingredients, adding water if necessary. Cover and cook for 5-10 more minutes.

6) Add ground peanuts but do not stir. (Mixing the ground nuts will thicken the sauce too much and it will start to burn). Cook at least 5 additional minutes.

7) Stir peanuts into sauce, add water to reach desired soupiness.

That's it. To add some spiciness to the dish, roast an habanero pepper a scotch bonnet pepper directly on the coals while cooking the agatogo. Then break the skin and drag it through your food until it's hot! (But discard the pepper)


  1. ahh, don't worry dear, I sent you some garlic and spices and stuff. Hopefully you'll get them soon!!! Miss you!! Also, it's cool that you can pretty much grow anything, especially since you like to grown plants anyway.

  2. urusenda peppers are called scotch bonnet peppers. i learned it in a food magazine that did a feature on senagalese food..!

    1. Duly noted and corrected.

      Ian in Rwanda regrets the error.

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