Food making has become one of my favorite pastimes in Togo. I do not mind spending hours in the kitchen working on a meal, or taking time out of each day to find fresh ingredients. Without the pre-packaged readymade snacks of America, nor the modern conveniences of a microwave, oven, refrigerator/freezer, I sometimes feel like that is my only option. Yet, the amount of time I spend on a meal is nothing compared to a Togolese woman.
Separating debris from the corn kernels

Her work starts before dawn, almost immediately after she wakes up. Around 5 a.m. she starts gathering charcoal and lights a fire for breakfast. Local favorites are a gooey millet porridge, a bean and rice mix called watché (generally accompanied with spaghetti noodles, sauces, and local cheese), or fried bean dough.

Then, once the husband heads off to work or the farm and the of-age kids leave for school, she will start on the next meal. Depending on the season, she might shuck sacks of corn kernels or remove thousands of beans from their pods.

She can take a break to let them dry in the sun for a few hours, before transporting them (on her head) to the local grinder. There the corn, beans millet, rice, or dried yams will be turned into flour.

By lunch time, she will have gathered a few extra food items—tomatoes, local greens, or dried fish—to make a sauce. Then she works on peeling, shelling, or crushing the ingredients with a flat rock and a stone slab.

I am making pâte
The main course she chooses to make might be the country’s favorite—pâte. If her children are home for the lunch break, she can recruit a daughter or two to help. 

Making pâte requires quite a lot of aerobic activity. It involves heating corn flour in water and constantly pounding the mix until it becomes elastic.

For dinner she might reheat leftovers from lunch or work on something new like slow-cooked rice in a tomato sauce. She might also add some fruit for dessert like oranges by cutting or razoring off the outermost skin layer (the zest, not the white layer). Then the kids can enjoy them as a quick sugary drink.

Mom basically fills her entire day turning food into a meal. Sometimes this seems terribly inefficient, but I am always baffled to discover how inferior some of my own techniques are. During my visit to the Fulani’s I learned how simple cheese making was, but eating oranges in Togo is even simpler.

My acquired food habits and tastes are gradually unbecoming here in Togo.

Bon appétit.
By the way, my latest photo album is all about food and can be found here

Razoring the skin off an orange
Ready to drink