As another volunteer put it when sitting down at a fairly western restaurant: “I guarantee that this menu is the greatest work of fiction in all of Burkina.” He was right. The menu was huge – five pages of items, including burgers and pizza! However, once we tried to order things we soon realized that they only really had about five items available.
So at a typical restaurant, what is available you ask? Here are the staples:
- White Rice and Sauce (peanut or tomato)
- Cous-Cous with Sauce (peanut or tomato)
- Flavored Rice (that has been boiled in a tomato sauce)
- Spaghetti with tomato sauce
- Benga (Basically rice and black beans)
- Brochettes (kebabs of beef/lamb and onions) with a spicy powder
Brochettes are my favorite by far, we’ve even found one guy who has a spicy mustard to go along with the normal spices. Usually the brochette guys don’t work at a restaurant, but just operate a grill next door to a restaurant and you order from him directly. Benga is my next favorite, and while a traditional dish, has been somewhat difficult for me to track down.
The price of a meal varies quite a bit, but to give you a sense, an expensive meal will be is anything over a dollar. Sometimes I am able to find big lunches of rice and sauce for the equivalent of about 30 cents.
One big cultural difference that really takes some getting used to is the process of calling for a waiter. Here in Burkina, one snaps and/or hisses in the direction of the waiter. I feel pretty rude while doing it, but when in Rome… I’ll definitely have to unlearn this before coming back home.
My nalgene is my constant companion, and is always filled with my double filtered water. Occasionally when I feel like spoiling myself I use one of my drink mix packets such as Gatorade or crystal lite. When I feel like something else, street vendors often sell “sachets”, since bottles are expensive in Burkina. Sachets are small bags filled with water or fruit juice. You then bite the corner of the bag and suck out the contents. My favorite juice so far is called Bissap, which is made from hibiscus. I’ve also had tamarind, orange, and some sort of ginger drink.
There are a surprisingly large number of beers available, and while none of them are particularly amazing, none are noticeably poor. My go-to is called “Brakina”, which is usually the cheapest of the decent stuff. The best part about the beers is that they are huge! A normal beer is 750ml and runs about $1.20.
And while the prices seem laughably low, my salary is equally laughable, so I can’t live the high life all of the time.