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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Mali: Sahel Food

A dibieterie in Djenné
Throughout Mali, dibieteries like this one in Djenné sell freshly cooked meat, normally served with a smile and a generous helping of hungry flies

The reason I haven't talked much about food in the Sahel is because it's generally pretty nondescript – it's not terrible, just uninspiring, and if you're used to travelling among the beautiful smells of Asian or European food, then you're in for a shock. The Sahel is incredibly poor, and inevitably it shows in the diet.

On the Street

There are some saving graces, but they come at a price. Street food is a hoot, and if you're willing to take your life in your hands, it breaks up the monotony of rice with sauce and mixes in lashings of atmosphere. In every town worth its salt you'll find a bunch of dibieteries, small roadside shacks that sell meat straight from the source. Your average dibieterie consists of a mud oven – normally a grill over a wood fire – on which you'll find racks of mutton, done to a turn, and precious little else except a roof and maybe a wooden bench. You rock up, take a pew, and ask for a certain amount of meat; CFA1000 is enough for a reasonable meal. The chef gets to work straight away, hacking the cooked mutton ribs to bits with a blunt machete and shaking salt and spices over the result. It's normally served in brown paper, and you simply tuck in, ripping the meat from the bone with your teeth. In the classiest dibieteries you'll also get treated to tea, but this isn't the norm; street food is fast food, and you can be in and out in minutes, fed to the gills with wonderfully fragrant barbecued meat.