Saturday, May 26, 2012

Best Street Food Ever - Mariam in Ouagadougou in 1986


Don Genova is offering tickets to the ICC Food Fest based on comments people leave on his blog about the best street food they have had.


Here is what I had to say:

The best street food I ever had was in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso.

In early 1986 I hitch hiked from Europe to West Africa. I ended up in the capital of Burkina Faso for longer than I planned because I had had all my money and passport stolen. I found a place to stay with a crazy ex-pat Frenchman and did not have to pay for accommodations and I could have breakfast there – Nescafe and baguette with condensed milk spread on it like honey.

I managed to borrow a CFA franc from other travellers which meant I could afford to buy some food but the only food I could afford was from one of the women that had street edge stalls. Stall is the wrong word, they set up at the edge of the street with a small fire to cook the food one and some board benches for people to sit on while eating the food.

The street food was all bowls of rice with a spicy meat stew on top of it called tô . You could not leave with your food unless you brought your own bowl. You also ate the food with your fingers. I was warned that it was not safe to eat the food because the food was not clean enough and i would get sick. I figured that if the locals ate and a stall had a lot of people at it, I could risk it.

The street food was decent enough but nothing to rave about until I found the queen of Burkinabe street food – Mariam.

Mariam had a spot just to the south of the main cemetery and she managed to cook the most amazing food. She did not do a single stew, she did close to ten different ones and a grilled chicken dish. Over four days with little or no money I had a chance to try almost all of the different stews she had on offer. Each one was stellar.

There are two that still stick with me 26 years later.

The first was a lamb and ground nut stew with some spice that I have no idea what it was. A simple dish of rice covered in this stew defined the word unctous.

The second was poulet bicyclette which is a type of semi wild west African chicken that is normally severed grilled. I have never tasted chicken as good as the chicken in west Africa and the grilled half a chicken that Mariam made is still the best chicken I have ever had in my life, better than the fanciest fine dining restaurant I ever been to.

I was on Ouagadougou for three more days after I got some money and an new passport, even though I could afford it, I remained loyal to Mariam and ate there for lunch and dinner for the rest of mine time in the city.
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