So, what do you know about food and drinks from Sierra Leone? If you’ve never visited our beautiful country, chances are you won’t be familiar with Sierra Leonean specialties and flavours. In Sierra Leone, rice is the most popular staple, accompanying stews made with the country’s most common crops – cassava, yams, groundnut (peanut) and leafy vegetables, with the addition of fish and dried meat. Hot peppers are often added, so make sure to ask in advance if you don’t want your dish to be spicy! Here are 5 delicious dishes from Sierra Leone, and three local drinks you may never have heard of!
Top 8 Local Delicacies in Sierra Leone
Besides rice, fufu is a very common accompaniment of saucy foods and stews. It’s a gelatinous mixture made with pounded starchy vegetables such as plantain, cassava and yams. The pounded vegetables are covered with hot water and left to ferment for several days, then they are ground into a soft and gelatinous dough, which can be rolled up into a ball and used to scoop up sauces. Due to the fermentation process, fufu has a slightly acidic flavour which goes very well with strong-flavoured dishes such as cassava leaf stew and groundnut soup.
2. Cassava Leaf Stew
This flavourful stew is made with cassava leaves as a base, but around Sierra Leone you may also encounter a variation made with potato leaves. The stew also includes beef or chicken, salted fish or prawns, and even a combination of two or more proteins. It is made by cooking the meat or seafood in water, and reserving the broth obtained to use as a base for the stew. Seasonings and palm oil are added to the cassava leaves, and the meat is also added and cooked some more.
Yebeh is a stew made with starchy, carbohydrate-rich vegetables like potatoes, plantain, cassava and yams. These vegetables are boiled to soften them, and then they are cooked with hot peppers and palm oil, another ingredient very frequently used in Sierra Leonean cuisine. Meat and fish are also added, and the starchy vegetables are cooked for a long time until they naturally become mushy and thicken the sauce.
4. Groundnut Soup
In Sierra Leone, peanuts are known as groundnuts, and they are a very common crop. Groundnut soup is actually a meat and vegetable stew, cooked in a thick peanut sauce. It usually includes beef and chicken, as well as a variety of vegetables slowly braised in the sauce, which can be made with peanut butter or ground peanuts. The finished dish has an orange hue to the addition of palm oil, which is usually bright red.
Wait… what? All Sierra Leonean dishes described so far are similar to those you may have encountered in other West African countries, but falafel are more commonly found in North Africa and the Middle East. In Sierra Leone, especially Freetown, Lebanese cuisine is very popular – it is estimated that over 100,000 people of Lebanese heritage currently live in the country, and many are involved in the hospitality industry. For this reason, it’s common to find dishes like hummus, falafel and shish tawook on menus around Freetown, especially in upscale restaurants. The dishes are usually delicious, and if you close your eyes you might think for a moment you’re in Beirut!
We had a look at 5 popular dishes from Sierra Leone, so let’s learn about drinks now. Bissap is a drink made with brewed hibiscus flowers, with the addition of flavourings like sugar, vanilla, lemon, ginger or even orange blossom water. The result is sweet and aromatic, and it’s also found as an ingredient for cocktails in Freetown’s swankiest bars.
7. Tombe Juice
Tombe juice is made with sour tamarind pulp, often flavoured with cinnamon, sugar and honey. You can buy it already mixed, or purchase tamarind paste and mix it with water and flavourings according to your tastes – some people even like to add a pinch of cayenne pepper to make it a little spicy. If you’d like to taste bissap or tombe juice but have no plans to visit Salone just yet, you can purchase them from the Shwen Shwen shop by Maria Bradford, a Sierra Leonean chef.
8. Palm Wine
Let’s end our selection of Sierra Leonean drinks with palm wine, also known as poyo, obtained from the fermented sap of coconut palms. The alcohol content depends on length of fermentation – when the coconut sap is freshly tapped, it’s quite light and refreshing, but the longer it’s left, the more alcoholic it becomes. Make sure you drink responsibly or you may be left with a terrible headache!