Customs and Cuisine of Niger

Customs and Cuisine of Niger

By Linda McElroy

I have to admit it’s been a bit of a challenge to find information about Niger; half the time websites bring up information about Nigeria instead. So I had to pay close attention to the distinction between Nigerien and Nigerian cuisine! Niger is still dominated by a rural cuisine where recipes are passed down orally from mother to daughter and very few recipes are documented in writing. This is undoubtedly one reason why I had trouble finding recipes to adapt for the American kitchen.

Culinary influences in Niger come from European as well as Arabic traditions. Since Niger was once a French colony (and French is still the official language) there is a good deal of French influence in the cuisine, especially in the larger cities. That could explain the presence of crusty bread in the diet instead of the usual flatbreads typically consumed in African countries.

Unfortunately Niger chronically suffers from drought, making fresh produce scarce and erratic. Millet is a versatile grain that originated in Africa, where it was prized for its drought resistance and quick growth even in poor soil. It is the staple diet of most of the rural population of Niger, and is often served with goat or camel milk. The millet is pounded into flour by women and girls and made into a paste or stiff porridge dough and covered with a stew or a sauce.

Rice is more of a “status” food, and saved for special occasions. Meat is for special occasions as well, usually grilled and eaten on the side. Although I found this information on many different websites I was not able to find any evidence of “Niger grilled meat recipes.” So I resorted to nearby Nigeria to bring you a recipe for just such a grilled meat skewer. Pork is not common as most of the population is Muslim. Traditional vegetables are yam or cassava root. Surprisingly, most of the recipes I encountered for Niger food were spice-free, meaning they usually just called for salt, and maybe a chili or two.

Tea is the most common drink as alcohol is not easily available in this predominantly Islamic country. It is often served in an elaborate ceremony of three rounds of tea. The same tea leaves are used for all three rounds, with increasing amounts of sugar added to each round; therefore, the first serving is “bitter as death,” the second serving is “mild as life,” and the third serving is “sweet as love.”

Dining Etiquette:
  • Men, women, and children usually eat apart.
  • When offered a drink it is impolite to refuse. It is also unusual to eat in front of another person without offering to share.
  • The right hand is always extended for touching other people, handing over objects and eating, as the left hand is used for hygiene purposes.
  • When approaching a home clap your hands to announce your arrival.
  • General rules of conduct include the importance of greetings, many of which are elaborate. It is considered rude to start a conversation without first inquiring about the health and wellbeing of a person’s family.

View Recipes from Niger