Cassava Bread - ©

Expedition To Sierra Leone II: Wheat Takes A Back Seat

Yesterday, we got a trial-by-fire introduction to Sierra Leonean mains and sides. Today we’ll let things cool off a bit and look at what Leoneans prefer in the line of bread and baked goods – and how they eat them. Leonean breads are like nothing we’ve encountered before…

Tapalapa - © pressafrik.comTapalapa: A pan-West-African, French-inspired daily bread…

One Sierra Leon hand who blogs tells a story of westernization that would break a native traditionalist’s heart. She says western-style white sliced wheat flour-based bread has invaded the urban areas of her country, and threatens to push aside the traditional breads that Leoneans rely on for their daily sustenance. Wheat flour-based bread of any kind is just wrong, dietarily and culturally, for the West African nation. They’ve never grown wheat there! What they do grow – and have always grown – are cassava, rice and sweet potatoes, and they make good use of them all…

On our menu today

Sliced White Wheat Bread: As mentioned earlier, this style of bread is an import to West Africa from Europe and North America. There’s nothing really remarkable about it, except, maybe, the many sizes and shapes of loaf that neighbourhood bakeries produce. It seems a shame that so many Leoneans (especially in the urban areas) have turned to wheat bread as their main loaf. Because all wheat in Sierra Leone is imported, Leoneans are at the mercy of world grain prices. In fact, there was a national bread shortage in 2019, when many bakers ‘downed tools’ to protest soaring wheat flour prices.

Rice Bread: A breakfast necessity for most Leoneans! It’s really what we would call a quick bread, usually employing rice flour, bananas, sugar, baking powder and vanilla. But it’s ubiquitousness elevates it above the dessert trolly!

Rice Bread - ©

One recipe we found included Tomato Paste. Gives the finished loaf a nice bright orange-red colour!

Cassava Bread: This is the local hero of Leonean breads. It’s found at home, at bakeries and at street stalls, as the basis for a lot of different snacks and sit-down dishes. Cassava starch is the basis of this loaf. It’s leavened with baking powder and eggs, and gets its ample richness from butter and mozzarella cheese (at least according to this recipe, claimed to be authentic). Look for it as nice fist-sized rolls (see photo, top of page), and…

Cassava Flatbread: The standard dough as described above can be formed into thin rounds like tortillas, or thicker ones like Naan.

Cassava Flatbread - © @shwenshwenbyw - via twitter

Palm-sized versions of these form the foundation of many street food treats.

Tapalapa: A French-style bread common across West Africa, brought there by French colonizers, found in baguette form from typical french size to baseball bat size. It’s the usual yeast-raised loaf, relying on wheat flour. But it may also contain millet, corn flour, or cow pea flower in varying combinations.

Street Cakes: All manner of single-serving cakes and rolls, sold by street vendors, featuring the whole wide range of flavours West Africa has to offer. (Below: King Cakes, a universal favourite!)

King Cake - © shesoporetty_22 - via YouTube

Some are definitely savoury, but most are on the sweet side. Choose your bun and choose your filling to spec out a sandwich!

You’d think all they do there is eat…

No. That’s an exaggeration. But you’d have to eat non-stop, dawn to dusk for a week or more to taste al the exotic foods Sierra Leone has to offer. Tomorrow, we’ll look in greater detail at those sweet Street Cakes, and other Leonean desserts!

~ Maggie J.