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Nyembwe – Gabon National Dish – Day 264/Dish 64

November 11, 2010

Hello travellers!

France is such an important stop on a culinary journey.  This goes without saying.   As we digest the delicious Coq au Vin, think of the other 19o-something countries on this journey and remember that many of them were crafting dishes long before the French were French and long before Escoffier wrote down his discoveries and thoughts.  It is both France AND the other countries that brings us out of our Lazy-Boy recliners and pulls us away from the TV as the smells and tastes of so many diverse cultures pulls us ever onward.  So today we travel to the equator and back to the Slave Coast of Western Africa.   This nation we are to visit was at one time a French territory and is still influenced by France to this day.

Gabon is situated on the Gulf of Guinea.  Neighboring nations include Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, all of which we have visited before.  To get there from France, we sail due south from Western Europe around the bulb of Western Africa and into the Gulf of Guinea landing int he southeast corner of that body of water.

Originally this area was populated by members of the Pygmy tribe who were displaced by the Bantus as they migrated to the West.  Europeans arrived first with the Portuguese in the 15th century from whence the name derived.   “Gabão”, means cloak which is roughly the shape of the estuary of the Komo River by Libreville, Gabon’s capitol.  The French settled here first in 1875 then officially occupied it in 1885.

This excerpt from Wikipedia tells of the next period in Gabon history and the influence the French had there.

Omar Bongo Ondimba in 2004

“In 1910, Gabon became one of the four territories of French Equatorial Africa, a federation that survived until 1959. These territories became independent on August 17, 1960. The first president of Gabon, elected in 1961, was Léon M’ba, with Omar Bongo Ondimba as his vice president. French interests were decisive in selecting the future leadership in Gabon after Independence; French logging interests poured funds into the successful election campaign of M’ba, an ‘evolué’ from the coastal region.


After M’ba’s accession to power, the press was suppressed, political demonstrations banned, freedom of expression curtailed, other political parties gradually excluded from power and the Constitution changed along French lines to vest power in the Presidency, a post that M’ba assumed himself. However, when M’ba dissolved the National Assembly in January 1964 to institute one-party rule, an army coup sought to oust him from power and restore parliamentary democracy. The extent to which M’ba’s dictatorial regime was synonymous with “French Interests” then became blatantly apparent when French paratroopers flew in within 24 hours to restore M’ba to power.

After a few days of fighting, the coup was over and the opposition imprisoned, despite widespread protests and riots. The French government was unperturbed by international condemnation of the intervention; and paratroops still remain in the Camp de Gaulle on the outskirts of Gabon’s capital. When M’Ba died in 1967, Bongo replaced him as president, and continued to be the head of state until his death in 2009, winning each contested election with a substantial majority.”


"Jock" a Western Lowland Gorilla in Bristol Zoo England

In other news, Gabon has had many successes as a nation.  Due to its geographic location on the equator, the climate is tropical with nearly 85% covered in rainforest.   Governmental policies in 2002 created by then President Omar Bongo Ondimba created a vast national park service over nearly 11% of the nations territory.  This allows species such as Lowland Gorillas and Forest Elephants to thrive with Gabon having nearly 20,000 gorillas and 60,000 Elephants, the largest population in Africa.  There are also over 700 species of birds found here.  These preservation efforts make a Gabon a uniquely beautiful place to visit.


Generally speaking, Gabon is considered a successful country.  Relatively high wealth, much of which is created by petroleum reserves found offshore, has helped create stability throughout the country.

Gabons national dish is one which we are familiar with.  In Gabon it is called Nyembwe.  It is a stew made from meat and the distinctive Red Palm Oil.  The last time we met this African specialty, it was called Muamba de Galinha in Angola (also visited by us before) also known as Mwambe (Democratic Republic of Congo) and is popular along the Congo River Basin and throughout western Africa.  Since we cooked this dish already, I am posting it with its new name and the picture I took the first time.  I love the colors in this dish.  They are vibrant and the flavor is so unique and unusual that I encourage you to track down some Red Palm Oil and try it yourself.


Nyembwe – Gabon National Dish – Day 264/Dish 64


Muamba De Galinha – Angola National Dish – Day 9/Dish 5


Appearance:  4 out of 5

Aroma: 3 out of 5

Taste:  3 out of 5


1 Chicken, cut into serving-sized pieces

Juice of 1 Lemon

250ml (about 1 cup) Palm Oil (or groundnut oil with 2 tsp Paprika)

3 medium Onions, chopped

3 Garlic cloves, minced

1 Scotch Bonnet or other Chili Pepper de-seeded and chopped or left whole if you prefer milder

3 Tomatoes, quartered

1 Squash (eg Butternut) or Sweet Pumpkin de-seeded, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces.

250ml canned Palm Soup Base (‘Sauce Graine’ or ‘Noix De Palme’) or homemade Nyembe Sauce (this can be omitted)

15 small, tender, Okra washed and ‘topped and tailed’ or sliced into coins

Salt, to taste


Squeeze the Lemon juice over the Chicken and allow it to marinate for about an hour.

Add the Palm Oil to a deep frying pan and heat on medium-high heat.

A splash guard is recommended (IKEA $3.99) for covering the pan since this oil really pops and sputters and is a intense red orange that will stain.


Place the Chicken in the pan and brown on all sides then add the Onion, Garlic, Chili and Tomato.

Stirring occasionally, simmer over low-medium heat for about 30 minutes then add the Squash and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Remove the Chicken from the pan and place on platter.

Add the canned Palm Soup Base and the Okra stirring well to incorporate the soup base.

Add Chicken back to pot.

Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the Okra is tender.

Season and serve with Rice or a Maize Fufu.

Gabon version:

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2010 1:19 pm

    I made this dish for Angola, too. I had a hard time with the red palm oil at first, but – with a light touch – I rather enjoy it. I can tell your professional training btw,…nice plating! 🙂

    • November 15, 2010 4:09 pm

      Hi Sasha,

      I hated the smell at first but I ended up liking the flavor. The color is intense though huh?


  2. November 23, 2010 3:16 pm

    This looks delicious! What’s the dealie-o with the palm oil, though? I thought palm oil was really bad for you, nutritionally? Can you substitute or will it ruin the authenticity of the flavor of the dish ?

    And I agree with Sasha … your plating makes this really appealing!

    • November 23, 2010 4:49 pm

      I understand that it is bad for you as well, but it is prevalent in many African and Asian dishes and the farming of it is a major agricultural product in certain countries. I probably wouldn’t want it everyday, but it was unique and cool to try it.

      How’s the spice garden these days?


  1. World Spinner

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