Congolese cooking 101: Bukari

Time for cooking class! Today we are starting with the building block of Congolese cuisine – bukari. This is the classic starch that is considered necessary to the Congolese diet. I’ve written about it before in this post about my time recounting my time cooking for the sick prisoners with a prison ministry group. I’ve been trying to learn but everytime I try to watch someone cook they just do it by instinct so it’s hard for a beginner to figure it out. However about a week ago I was at one of our children’s centers and managed to make my way into the kitchen to see how they made the bukari.

Time to put on your aprons and get to cooking!

First boil a giant pot of water and some corn flour. Let those boil together for about 20 minutes. Or longer… it’s a very intuitive thing. While you’re waiting let the kids standing outside the kitchen seranede you with a song…

After letting them boil together for a while, start mixing and break up the large chunks of flour. Add more corn flour and keep mixing until it gets to the desired consistency.

This is the the part that takes the most physical effort. The mixture gets thick and you need some serious muscles to get it moving. I have tried and usually only last about 30 seconds before someone pushes me out of the way. It also needs to be done faster than I generally do it so that everything gets evenly mixed and there aren’t clumps of corn flour.

Lastly the bukari needs to be formed into balls. An average serving is two balls of bukari per person. I have definitely broken up fights between kids who have eaten more than their share and the kids they took bukari from. I’ve seen various methods for shaping the bukari but at the center where I was they take two metal bowls and squish the bukari between them before wiping off the extra and dropping the finished ball of bukari into the serving bucket. I tried to do it as well but the bukari is hot and the metal bowls heat up real quick. I gave my phone to a child to film me and he just took really blurry selfies so there is no proof that I wimped out after one because it was burning my hands. Please watch these much more experienced bukari scoopers at work.

And you’re done! Because bukari is very dense the other things that are eaten with it are liquidy. In the picture at the top of the post each pair of kids across from each other is sharing one plate of bukari – two bowls each – and one plate of greens cooked with oil and small dried fish. The way to eat it is to pinch off a small amount of bukari with your hand and shape it into a log that fits in your palm then dip the end into the sauce and grab a little of the greens/fish/whatever protein you are eating and pop them into your mouth together. It is generally eaten with your hands but I have seen people use a knife and fork.

Bon appétit!


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