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from: Western Africa | cooking method: boiling-simmering

Dahomey Fish Stew

Dahomey was an African kingdom (part of the region called the "Slave Coast") that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries in what is now Benin. The modern nation of Benin was known as Dahomey in the early 1970's when this recipe was published.

stilthouses built over water in benin

What you need

What you do

Adapted from The New York Times International Cook Book by Craig Claiborne (Harper & Row, 1971).


Maryse Condé

What a strange fruit it was, the tomato!

Tomatoes, both fresh and canned, are so commonplace in African cooking today that many Africans might be surprised to learn that tomatoes originated in the Americas and were brought to Africa soon after Columbus sailed to the new world. It is easy to imagine Italians feeling the same way. In Segu (New York: Viking Press, 1987), Maryse Condé recounts traditional Bambara beliefs concerning the tomato. (Segu, once a Bambara empire, is a city today's Mali.)

Naba put his tomatoes carefully into a large gourd. What a strange fruit it was, the tomato! The god Faro used it to make women pregnant. It contained the germ of the embryo, for its seeds were multiples of seven, the figure linked to the twinning which lay at the origins if the human race. In Segu, beside her hut, Nya had a little bed of tomatoes which was dedicated to Faro; she used to crush the fruit and offer them up to the god in the altar hut. And so whenever he picked his own tomatoes Naba felt himself back near his mother, back in her smell and warmth.
(Part One: The Word That Descends by Night)


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African Proverbs

Opitri memenne-a, omemenne ma oura. (Oji) : When the Pitri absorbs (the soup), he does it for his master. N.B. -- The Pitri is a river fish, of which soup is made. In appearance, the quantity of the soup is reduced by being absorbed in the fish ; but in reality it is only a transfer, the part that disappears being contained in the soup. The meaning is, "What you spend in improving your property, is not lost, though temporarily your means are diminished by it."
  (from: Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, Richard Francis Burton)

Iyak ebe inyan. (Efik or Old Calabar Language) : The fish has been kept over one tide. N.B. -- A proverbial phrase for It is spoiled. (ibid)

Other African proverbs

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