Today, I am taking you to Rwanda for igisafuliya, a delicious dish prepared with chicken, vegetables and plantain.
Rwanda is called the Switzerland of Africa for the beauty of its landscapes, most of which are very green and explain the nickname of the country, the “country with a thousand hills”. Rwanda is a mountainous country bordering Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Tanzania.
It is located in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Its landscapes offer beautiful parks, such as Akagera Park, featuring hippopotamuses, antelopes, elephants, volcanoes, imposing high peaks such as the Virunga mountain range, which is composed of volcanoes up to 15000 feet high. And in the middle of all these landscapes is a lake, Kivu, the largest in the country. In this preserved environment, beautiful wild primates, such as monkeys and mountain gorillas live peacefully.
Rwandan cuisine is not known for being spicy. Rwandans eat simple meals, made with locally grown ingredients. The Rwandan diet consists mainly of sweet potatoes, beans, maize, peas, millet, plantains, cassava and fruits. Potato, introduced by German settlers, is now very popular.
As most Rwandans live in rural areas, they rarely eat meat. Some families have livestock, but since owning cattle is considered a status symbol, they only slaughter them very rarely to consume their meat.
In urban areas, meat is more abundant. The most popular meats are beef and chicken. Rwandans who live near lakes fish and therefore eat fish. Tilapia and sambaza are the two most consumed fish in the country. Note that sambaza is a delicious popular little fish, close to the sardine, and that is also called “sardine of Lake Kivu” where fish are raised in fish farms.
A traditional Rwandan breakfast consists of sweet potatoes and porridge. Lunch and dinner can be boiled beans, bananas, sweet potatoes or cassava.
The most common and most eaten Rwandan dishes are: umutsima, a dish made from cassava and maize, isombe, made from manioc leaves with eggplant and spinach, and mizuzu, from fried plantain bananas.
Between meals, Rwandans often eat fruit. Tropical fruits such as avocados, bananas, mangos, pineapples and papayas are abundant in Rwanda. Also, street vendors in urban areas sell roasted corn and grilled meat.
But back to our igisafuliya, also called igisafrya, or igisafuria. The word means “pot” in Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages of Rwanda along with French and English. This dish, as well as many of its variants, bears this name as it is entirely prepared in one pot, similarly to a Moroccan or Algerian tajine.
Finally, note that in Rwanda, refusing to eat or drink is considered a serious insult. Usually, hosts taste all the drinks and all the food first before serving them to their guests to show that everything is fit for consumption and nothing has been poisoned.
There is one thing to avoid at the table: asking questions about someone’s ethnicity or to refer to someone as Hutu or Tutsi. Rwanda is a country whose deep wounds are still healing, and the government is working hard to ensure that Rwandans heal together, to avoid another conflict in the future. To do this, they emphasized the idea that ethnicity no longer exists, that everyone is simply Rwandan.
- 4 chicken thighs
- 2 onions , chopped
- 2 leeks (white and green parts), thinly sliced
- 4 green bell peppers , seeded and cut
- 4 tomatoes , peeled, seeded, and diced
- 5 celery stalks , chopped (including leaves)
- 4 plantain bananas , peeled, cut in half lengthwise and then cut in half
- 10 oz. spinach , fresh or frozen
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 hot pepper (optional)
In a pot with hot oil, sear chicken over medium-high heat to color on all sides.
Add onion, leeks and peppers. Stir and leave about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, celery and tomato paste and mix well. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
Cover with water, salt, pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Then remove 2 pieces of chicken, place the plantains, cover them with the spinach and put the chicken back on top. Add water if necessary so that the bananas are fully submerged.
Cover, add the whole hot pepper, and simmer over low heat for about 25 minutes. The liquid should not evaporate too much during cooking, as there should be a lot of sauce left.