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Mealie-Meal Pap – Burundi National Dish – Day 53/Dish 27

March 2, 2010

As we travel out of the Andaman Sea southwest to our next destination, I cast one last look on the shores of Burma and think of the turmoil that poverty and ethnic strife have caused mankind over the millennia.  As if it were foreshadowed by the last two stops on our excursion, The United Republic of Burundi falls neatly into place as the apex of human struggle.   In fact the entire continent of Africa is riddled with stories of misery in the face of incredible human potential and bountiful natural resources that are overshadowed by corruption and greed.

Burundi is located in Eastern Africa in the region known as the Great Lakes.  Also known as the Great Rift Valley, the Great Lakes stretch across four countries.   This area is the source of the Nile River that stretches north into Egypt.  Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world at 420 miles long, and is an incredible 4,708 feet in depth.  It borders Burundi in its southwest border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.  The lake is home to over 350 species of fish including hundreds of popular aquarium species and many of the locals make their living fishing for these or other edible cousins. 

From around the beginning of the 20th century, the region was controlled by Germany and Belgium and the European colony of Ruanda-Urundi encompassed much of modern day Burundi as well as neighboring Rwanda.  This was the historic land of the famous Hutu and Tutsi peoples as well as the Twa who had lived here for nearly 5 centuries before the Germans and Belgians arrived. After Germany was defeated in WW2, they turned over control to the Belgians who gradually returned the countries to autonomous rule with help form the world community.  Rwanda and Burundi seperated while under the mandate of the United Nations.

Ethnic and civil unrest between the factions of the area caused the Civil Wars of the late 1950’s till the early 1990’s. Hundreds of thousands of Hutu’s and Tutsi’s murdered each other or were forced to flee to escape persecution.  Similar hostilities in Rwanda added fuel to the fire and retaliatory attacks were common. 

In 1993 the first Hutu-led government was elected.  Shortly thereafter, the Hutu Leader Melchior Ndadaye was assassinated causing a immediate relapse into years of bloody fighting.  An additional 300,000 people are estimated to have died in the years after this event.  Claims of genocide have been leveled on both sides, with many examples of sexual mutilations and rapes as well as systematic slaying of thousands of people based solely on their ethnicity.

In 1996 power reverted to the Tutsi’s in a coup d’état.  This set the stage for peace talks and cease-fire agreements that would eventually establish an uneasy peace between the warring parties.   In 2005 the then Hutu government established ethnic quotas to determine positions in the newly formed power sharing government.  This has created a more balanced representation for both sides in the conflict. Still, tensions exist between Hutu and Tutsi people and various world agencies and even Nelson Mandela have been involved in trying to establish a peaceful government in Burundi.

Despite recent fighting in 2008, leaders of both sides have pledged to work together to resolve conflicts.  The ensuing calm has caused a return of nearly half a million refugees.  Unfortunately this return has caused heated arguments over property rights, the issue that caused the conflicts in the first place.  The cycle seems to continue. 

Here is the irony, although it is believed that Tutsis original arrived in the region from Ethiopia and the Hutu from Chad, they both speak Bantu, they both generally practice Catholicism and there are no real genetic differences in either tribe.  The problems generally arose from class struggle with the perception being that the Tutsi were wealthier with higher class status, and had control of better land for cattle farming.

The years of conflict have left Burundi with the lowest per capita GDP on Earth.  Survivors of the conflict bear both the economic brunt of the grim realities facing Burundi as well as the emotional scars of years of ethnic unrest.  The task of rebuilding and reengaging has been left to the same groups that distrusted each other enough to perpetrate the human atrocities of the past decades.  The cycle of hatred continues and the anger boils beneath the skin of the people of Burundi.  We can only encourage and hope that the temporary peace becomes a more permanent one and that one day, the anger abates and the people forget the slights of the past.

The national dish of Burundi is a corn meal porridge known by many names throughout Africa and the Caribbean.  In Burundi it is called Mealie–Meal or Pap.  In other countries it is called Sadza.  In the Caribbean it is called Fu-Fu and Fungee. In the Southern USA we call it Grits or Corn Meal Porridge.  It is basically stewed white corn meal to which any number of toppings can be added for variety.  It can be served sweetened with cream and sugar or honey. It can be served with a stew or gravy or just eaten plain with butter or cold milk.   Or it can be eaten as a subsistence food with no toppings that is both hearty and filling. 

We have made this dish before as round balls with butter and okra bits.  Today I will make it in a pot batch and serve it as a base porridge much like oatmeal or grits.  To accompany the Mealie-Meal I am making a chicken and tomato stew seasoned with coriander, turmeric and oregano as well as onion and garlic. 

This dish gets a 1-2 for difficulty.  It is both quick and easy to prepare.  The stew takes longer, but requires only enough skill to chop veggies and balance seasonings.  The outcome was very simple, fresh and delicious, although the flavor grows on you.  By bite number three I was hooked and had to go back for seconds when I was done.


Appearance:  3 out of 5

Aroma: 2 out of 5

Flavor: 4 out of 5

Total: 9 out of 15

In this case, the ratings do not necessarily reflect the tastiness of the dish.  I am rating primarily the Mealie-Meal which by itself is plain and not bursting with flavor.  However if you like grits or corn meal mush, it is not unpleasant and makes a nice base flavor with natural sweetness for the stew which is very simple and balanced.  It is a nice change from rice.   I edited the original recipe to remove the brown sugar and milk that it included as toppings.  They would be a nice way to enjoy this dish for breakfast.



4 tbsp Maize Meal

½ tsp Salt

¼ cup cold Water

2 ½ to 3 cups cold Water

Butter to serve


Blend the maize meal, salt & ¼ cup water together to form a smooth paste. Meanwhile, bring 2 ½ to 3 cups (depending on the size of your pot) of cold water to the boil. Once boiling, add the paste to it and stir to prevent lumps forming. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer (stirring occasionally) for about 12 to 15 minutes. Serve sprinkled with a few small knobs of butter. This blog is a good resource for those interested in daily life in East Africa from the perspective of a woman living on a farm with her family.

Tomato stew with Chicken


3 breast of Chicken cleaned and cut into 1” chunks before cooking

2- 14 oz cans of finely diced tomatoes

1 large slicing tomato diced

3-4 cups of Chicken Broth

Salt and Pepper

1 tbsp Turmeric Powder

1 tsp Coriander Powder

1 tsp Garlic Powder

4 cloves garlic sliced and crushed

4 shallots peeled and sliced

1 large white or yellow onion diced

2 tbsp vegetable oil


Season chicken cubes with salt and pepper.

In a Medium Pot, add oil and bring to medium high heat. 

Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes till they soften and become aromatic. 

Add the dry spices to the oil and sauté for an additional minute while rapidly stirring to avoid burning. 

Add the canned tomatoes and onion with 1-2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and add the diced fresh tomato.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes. 

Add remaining chicken stock and chicken.  Return to a boil and reduce to simmer for around 1 hour 15 minutes till the chicken is tender.  Serve hot over Mealie-Meal Pap.

Serves 6


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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jihad permalink
    March 2, 2010 11:09 am

    This dish was tasty but not my favorite…it was more of an everyday meal rather than a knock your socks off type dish.

  2. March 2, 2010 9:02 pm

    This would be a perfect dish for any night of the week. It seems pretty quick and easy to make (and tasty too!)


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