Cooking rice… the Malian way

‘Monique, you did it!’ Amadou brings out approvingly looking at the rice. It took me only about three months to work out how to serve rice in dry recognizable and edible grains…

As you may have noticed from previous blog entries in Mali there’s little going the way we’re used to in the so called first world countries.
Take a simple thing as cooking rice: can’t do much wrong, you’d probably think. Well, trust me it’s a bit different over here…

Let’s start with buying the rice:
I’ve notified Amadou – it’s been a few months since – that I’m ready to start preparing meals, being sure it’ll give me some quiet joyful moments away from all the work in and around the house. So, off we go, to the market, to the special rice sector.
‘Five kilos of rice please’, I ask the woman, who looks at me as if I’m speaking Chinese. Amadou instantly hops in, translating my French into the local language, Bambara. The woman points at the huge 100 kilo bags that are surrounding here, speaking rapidly to Amadou.
Apparantly those are all different qualities to choose from and to me they all look the same. No problem, there’s always a solution in Mali: I will have to taste. So there I find myself chewing on raw pieces of rice, surrounded by men and women who are having loads of fun. I’m guessing it’s pretty obvious I have no clue which one to choose. Finally I pick one and watching the facial expressions of Amadou and the sales woman it’s not at all a bad choice.

Happily I start the cooking process the way I’m used to: boil water, add the rice, let it boil for another 10 to 15 minutes, drain and serve…
The water turns grey the moment I add the rice and little brown flakes drift to the water surface. It’s pretty clear that I should have rinsed it. I decide to let go of the first attempt and ask Amadou to go and find a meal…

On the second attempt I avoid the first time mistakes and add clean rice to the boiling water.
15 minutes later the substance in the pot has changed into some kind of sticky whitish dough, burned to black at the bottom. It’s another mess, ready to be eaten by the neighbor’s sheep…
On the third attempt I add more water, avoiding it being all burnt, but it’s still more like a dough.
The guys eat it without complaining, it’s still nutritious and maybe they actually do understand that I’m really trying hard to make it work.
I’ve tried to explain them about the ready to cook rice we buy at the supermarket with the instructions on the package; they just looked at me with blank faces.
‘Monique I don’t think I’ve ever seen those in Mali’, Amadou said, making it beyond doubt: you’ll have to deal with it the Malian way.

The attempts go on and on and the results were slightly improving attempt after attempt.
It took a bit of time, but I’ve finally worked it out, with the help of Amadou and some local women:

1. put the right amount of rice grains in a strainer
2. remove all the unpeeled grains, stones and flakes of chaff
3. rinse thoroughly until the water is clear
4. bring water to the boil
5. steam the rice grains for about 5 to 10 minutes above the boiling water
6. add salt to the water
7. add the rice
8. let it cook for another 10 minutes or so
9. drain
10. leave it for a few more minutes in the strainer before serving it
11. enjoy your meal

Every time I’m removing the not-to-be-cooked-pieces from the rice I’m feeling grateful not having to cook for an entire Malian family; it being quite time consuming.
Having said that, it’s quite meditative also!

About MoInMali

Monique is the founder of Papillon Reizen, a Mali based travel agency specialized in inspiring journeys in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Fair-trade and with a heart for people, environment and culture. Small-scale group journeys as well as family trips and journeys tailored to your wishes. We love to share West Africa's beauty with you and take you on a journey to experience rather than to see. Monique lives in Mali with her Malian partner and shares some of her daily life experiences with you through this blog. For information on Papillon Reizen:
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