Growing up, I heard so much about Mauritania that I always felt I knew the country by heart without ever visiting it. To date, I still have never been there but I can say I know a lot about this country now!
I was born and I grew up in Morocco and this impression is simply the work of small transistor my dad screaming continuously what was happening in Western Sahara in this war between Morocco and Mauritania and the Polisario Front.
Mauritania has a rich and cultural variety that can be found in its traditional cuisine. Each region has its own culinary characteristics. Whether in desert areas (nomadic culture) or near the coast (fishing culture), the dishes are fundamentally different.
Without being as rich and varied as its Moroccan neighbor, Mauritanian cuisine gets a lot of inspiration from its neighbor’s, especially in the north. Southern Mauritania, on the other hand, gets its inspiration more from Senegal and sub-Saharan Africa in general.
Farming is the main activity of Mauritanians: sheep, goat and camel. Today, I focus on sheep, or more exactly lamb. Bonava is a lamb and potatoes stew.
In Morocco and Tunisia, batata bel kamoun, which is made with cumin, as its name suggests (in Arabic), is also excellent! Bonava can be prepared with or without chili. I chose to make two of my men happy by making it spicy, like my Kyrgyz djarkope.
In the Mauritanian desert, the Nomads still occasionally simmer this dish in the sand.
Last week, as I was discussing this delicious coconut mousse recipe, I wrote about obesity raging on the island of Nauru. However, the cause for obesity in Nauru and Mauritania is quite different…
Yes! In Mauritania, obesity defines feminine beauty and it is even sung by poets. Therefore, girls are “overfed” from an early age. A very plump women is an ideal of beauty and a sign of prosperity in Mauritania. Although attitudes are changing, some families still push girls to get big.
For generations, families have force-fed their daughters several pints of cow or camel milk day and night, in part to improve their chances to get married. As they get bigger and develop their “bum”, they become more valuable in the eyes of men. Big women boast their shapes while lean women are the shame of their parents, who can pass for cheap parents looking to save money.
“The woman occupies in the hearts of her man the space she occupies in his bed.” – Mauritanian Proverb
Get big and shut up! What a dream… or not!
But let’s go back to my bonava, I’m a big fan of lamb in every shape or form, and just like the dounguouri soko from Niger, it was a big success for this easy and delicious recipe!
- 4 lb lamb (shoulder or hock)
- 2 lb potatoes with firm flesh , cut into large cubes
- 6 onions , thinly sliced
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 3 bay leaves
- ½ cup peanut oil
- Chili powder (optional)
- Boiling water
- Blanch the onions by immersing them in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain well.
- Slightly heat oil in a large pot and sauté the onions for a few minutes without browning.
- Then sauté the meat at medium / high heat to brown.
- Add vinegar, lamb, salt, pepper, and chili powder.
- Cover with boiling water, just enough to submerge the meat.
- Bake for one hour at medium heat.
- Add potatoes and cook for for 30 minutes (15 minutes over medium heat and 15 minutes on low heat).
- Adjust salt, pepper, and chili and possibly boiling water.