Burundi is situated in Central Africa and has a territory full of mountains, savannas and agricultural fields, with forests in the surrounding of rivers and waters. Agriculture is spread on 80% of the country’s surface and it especially includes coffee, tea, corn, beans and manioc.
Due to these characteristics, the Burundi cuisine is very representative of the African culinary culture, as it includes beans, which are the staple of Burundi cooking, exotic fruits (mainly bananas – plantains), sweet potatoes, cabbage and tubers. Like many East African cuisines there is a strong Asian influence on Burundian cookery, including the use of hot spices and the prevalence of chapatis at meals. As a snack food or side dish, Burundians enjoy ugali, a porridge-like paste made from boiling cassava.
In the larger cities of Burundi, French bread is a favourite of the people. Drinking coffee and tea have become a common practice among the Burundians. Red kidney beans are such a favourite food of the Burundians, that it is a must once in a day.
Sorghum beer and urwarwa (banana beer) are the two traditional drinks of the Burundi people. The snack foods of Burundi include groundnut, sugarcane and fruits. Serving desserts along with the meal is not a custom in Burundi food culture. The people are not in the favour of cooking sweet foods, but the main course often has a sweet taste from bananas or peanut sauce. In rural areas, the Burundi foods are generally prepared over a wood fire.
Not much meat is consumed in Burundi, because animal breeding is a secondary occupation; still, there are some dishes that include goat and sheep meat but cows are very sacred.
A major aspect when discussing Burundian cuisine is based on the economic conditions of the country: the Burundian people usually eat homemade food, from homemade vessels also used for drinking, carrying water and storing grain.
Food in Daily Life
The most common foods are beans, corn, peas, millet, sorghum, cassava, sweet potatoes, and bananas. The diet consists mainly of carbohydrates; vitamins and minerals are provided by fruits, vegetables, and combinations of grains, but little fat and protein are available. Meat accounts for 2 percent or less of the average food intake. As a result, kwashiorkor, a disease caused by protein deficiency, is common. Fish is consumed in the areas around Lake Tanganyika. Meal production is labour-intensive. The cassava root is washed, pounded, and strained, and sorghum is ground into flour for pancakes or porridge. The porridge is rolled into a ball with one hand and dipped in gravy or sauce. Typical meal items can include the following :
- Chapati – Flat-bread of Indian origin.
- Ugali – A stiff porridge made from cornmeal, manioc, millet or sorghum. A very common side dish and by many considered the national dish.
- Curry – Proper curries as well as dishes with curry are quite common in larger cities.
- Marahagwe – Beans and vegetable stew.
- Ibiharage – Fried beans.
- Beans and bananas – A red kidney bean and plantain mush.
- Bean soup – Often include several types of beans.
- Matura and mahu – A heavy stew made with beef, tripe and blood.
- Boko boko harees – A chicken stew with onions, wheat grains and turmeric.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions
Beer is an important part of social interactions and is consumed at all important occasions, such as the marriage negotiations between two families. It is drunk through straws. A number of food customs revolve around the treatment of cows, which are considered sacred. For example, milk cannot be heated or boiled or drunk on the same day that peas or peanuts are consumed. When a cow dies, the family eats its meat and then plants its horns in the soil near the house to bring good luck.