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Riz Gras – Burkina Faso National Dish – Day 46/Dish 25

February 22, 2010

Our next destination is Burkina Faso, a landlocked country in Western Africa.  To get there, we sail away from the hauntingly beautiful Aegean Sea and sail west out of the Mediterranean.  We then round the bulk of Western Africa passing Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and the whole list of smaller nations till we arrive again at Benin.  When we were in Benin we talked about the shape of the country as an upside-down gourd.  Burkina Faso sits north and west of the base of the gourd on the edge of the Sahara Desert. 

Our goal today is Ouagadougou (Wah-Gah-Doo-Goo) the capital city of Burkina Faso (Bur-kee-nah Fah-so).  Both go on my list of most interesting names of places to say.

Burkina Faso has suffered the woes of post-colonial withdrawal and the challenges of independence as much as any nation can.  With one of the lowest per capita GDP’s on Earth and hovering near the bottom of Human Development Indices Burkina Faso has been challenged like few other countries have.  3 Million Burkinabe people have been forced to move to neighboring Cote D’Ivoire to try to find work, mostly in agriculture.  In an impoverished region, resources are scarce and people do without staples or find creative solutions to their plight. 

To give you an example of the level of poverty found in this and other Western African states, the total nominal GDP for BF is estimated at 8.113 Billion dollars in 2008.  Compare this with an education budget for 10.9 billion in North Carolina alone and you can see the point.  NC has a total population of about 9.2 million, while Burkina Faso has a population of 15.7 million. Demand for resources outweighs the supply and leaves people in desperation.

Some of the issues facing Burkina Faso are the result of limited resources.  However, some of the problems’ can be traced to the leadership.  Freedom of the press is marginal at best, corruption is an issue and one of the best sectors for employment is the military or police service.  In particular the Presidential Guards are well funded.

Burkina Faso first became a colony in 1896 and it took more than two years of fighting native resistance to nominally conquer the entire territory.  This was similar to the strength of the warriors of Benin.  The French held power in BF till 1960 when independence was declared.  The name became Burkina Faso in 1984.  This can literally be translated to People of Integrity in local dialects.

Traditional hut in Burkina Faso - Photo from Wikipedia

During the years immediately following independence Burkina Faso’s leaders took the route of outlawing opposing political parties and formed a dictatorship.  Of course dictatorships eat themselves and eventually the leaders were replaced with more leaders who did much the same thing.  Poverty like politics is a circular morass that leaves the children with limited options but to fall into the same cycle.

The food of Western Africa is controlled by the local geography and produce.  The more fertile areas produce higher quality and quantities of grains, vegetables and protein sources.  Many of the dishes of this Sub-Saharan region originated with the need for inexpensive healthy and filling choices to feed impoverished people. 

The national dish of Burkina Faso is Riz au Gras.  The English translation is Fat Rice and this one pot meal is basically meat and rice with a stew mix of chilies and tomatoes.  Local Burkinabe chefs offer a variety of unique and delicious takes on this dish.  Try mixing it up for fun.

I found this dish to be a creeper.  What I mean is that the first bite is not exciting until after you swallow it.  The flavors begin to develop slowly but surely in the top and back of the mouth.  The third bite is when it gets real tasty.  The sauce ends up tasting like a spicy Marinara Sauce.  The rice is well cooked, not “al dente” after 25 minutes of cooking, but that doesn’t detract from the flavor which is compelling but not like fireworks in your mouth.  I tend to dumb down the spice a bit.  If I had left the full amount, I think it would have been more immediately apparent.  But I think I got it just right.  Play with the spice levels for a very satisfying and filling dish.  



Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma: 3 out of 5

Flavor: 3 out of 5

Total: 9 out of 15


500g rice

500g chicken meat (either chicken portions or cubed meat)

1 Maggi (or stock) cube or 2 cups Chicken Stock.

3 garlic cloves

2 Scotch Bonnet Chilies or another hot chili

1/2 onion, finely chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

4 tbsp tomato purée

Oil for frying

Salt and black pepper, to taste

Preparation: (I have edited this for ease of preparation)

Grind the Chilies, Garlic tomatoes, and Onion with a processor or mortar and pestle to make a paste. 

Add 125ml oil to a large pan or skillet and spoon the chili and tomato paste into this.

Place the pan containing the oil and chili tomato paste on a medium high burner and cook for 8 minutes.

Place the meat in a large metal frying pan.

Use a little water to wash the mortar or processor bowl and add this to the pan along with the meat. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Transfer the meat to the pan with the chili and tomatoes and stir-in to the 4 tbsp of tomato purée.

Add 1liter water and the Maggi cube and bring to a boil while stirring.

Add the rice (well washed).

Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Check the water, reduce to a very gentle simmer and continue cooking, covered, for a further 10 minutes (all the water should be absorbed).

Serve immediately.

Garnish with thin sliced onions and chopped peppers for more heat and flavor.

Serves 4 people

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    February 22, 2010 10:23 am

    Looks yummy, but I would probably put less liquid…Belizeans tend to like rice less ‘soft’ and more chewy! Reminds me of Arroz con Pollo,(that my Mom used to make) which has saffron instead of tomato sauce, and less peppery,with mushrooms, black and green olives and capers.

  2. Dan permalink
    September 18, 2011 11:58 am

    Cool; do you know what kind of coffee, if at all, is consumed in Burkino?

    • Jami permalink
      January 14, 2012 1:38 pm

      Interestingly (and sadly) the only coffee consumed by the Burkinabé is Nescafé instant coffee. This is sad because neighbouring countries Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana both grow fabulous coffee, but none of these countries consume West African coffee. As one man explained to me when I asked why they don’t drink their own, awesome, coffee: “Its all for export, we grow the beans, Europe buys them and sells them back to us far too expensive so all we can drink is this imported instant stuff.” Nescafé is what you will receive if you order coffee in any restaurant or hotel. The same rings true for chocolate. They grow it, but don’t eat it.


  1. Riz Gras – Burkina Faso National Dish – Day 46/Dish 25 « MyHungryTum | burkina

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