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Into the heart of Congo

Into the heart of Congo
Zero Point Zero
Thursday, June 6, 2013 - 6:17pm

World-renowned chef, author and Emmy winning television personality Anthony Bourdain visits the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the next episode of "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," airing Sunday, June 9, at 9 p.m. ET. Follow the show on Twitter and Facebook.

"Good food is going to be a challenge soon, so we take the opportunity to fill up on what we can," Anthony Bourdain says, fueling up at a local restaurant before leaving Goma. This city in the Democratic Republic of Congo lies at the foot of the Nyiragongo Volcano and has a population of about one million people - many of whom are internally displaced.

Grilled chicken, ugali and piri piri pepper make "a pretty nice meal," Bourdain finds.

Where he and his crew are going, deep into the "heart of darkness" as Joseph Conrad so famously put it, requires a multi-day barge journey that isn't exactly a luxury river cruise with refrigeration. SPAM and scrambled eggs it is.

According to the UN World Food Programme, there is a "precarious food security situation" in the DRC - one in four children in the war-torn country is malnourished.

The food that is accessible is simple and nourishing. Filling starches like cassava and plantains are used to fill the stomach, while fish from the snaking Congo River are a valuable source of protein. So are grubs and caterpillars. Most animal proteins - chicken, eggs, goat and bush meat, for example - are considered a rare and expensive luxury.

One of the most commonly-served West and Central African dishes is a thick paste made of cornmeal, yam, plantains or cassava. What you call it depends on where you are in Africa - Bourdain calls it ugali, others call it posho, but it's more commonly referred to as fufu.

It isn't eaten plain, but instead used more like a utensil to dip into soups, sauces and stews.

You too can travel deep into the heart of Africa by making this dish at home.


Recipe published with permission by the University Press of Mississippi

Fufu can be made from scratch with fresh plantains and either cassava or yam (and strong arms!). Yam comes in all colors and sizes but should not be confused with sweet potato, which isn't a true yam.

African yams are often hard to find in the U.S. but you can experiment with other yams. The consistency of fufu should be more like chewy dumplings than mashed potatoes. To make it from scratch, take 5 green plantains and 2 1/2 cups cassava (also called manioc or yuca) or yam. Peel, cut into chunks, and cover with water in a large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes until tender. Drain.

Put the pot back on the stove over low heat and pound and stir the mixture with a sturdy wooden spoon or large wooden pestle for 15-20 minutes, adding a little water as you work so the mixture doesn't stick to the pot.

When the fufu is smooth and feels a bit like chewing gum, roughly shape into balls (the size of tennis balls) by wetting a round bowl with high edges and vigorously rolling each ball of fufu in it for a few seconds. Serve as an accompaniment to stews, soups or sauces.

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