My Citizens! I am sorry to report that I – the Sultan of Sickness, the Il-Khan of Illness – am currently riding pillion behind the 3rd Horseman of the Apocalypse (Pestilence)! Yes, I am indeed STILL fighting off whatever unholy virus has taken possession of My body over the last 18 days and can barely rise from My deathbed to write these veritable words of prophecy – I WILL GET BETTER! To convince Myself of that, it is time to share the final recipe of the 7-part series highlighting the finest in African cuisine – today, we visit Togo!
I wanted to hold off until the end before sharing this particular recipe for gboma dessi, as Togo is not a well-known country outside of Western Africa, and it seemed an apropos place to end our tour of the African continent’s bountiful gastronomic heritage and flavor profiles! Gboma dessi provides everything a recovering body needs to recuperate – protein, iron, flavor, salt and spice – all of which are bona fide NECESSITIES for Me as I seek to emancipate Myself from the sadistic yoke of this particular viral oppressor!
Sadly, as you can imagine from My specific word usage in the previous sentence, Togo was infamous as a primary source of slaves for hundreds of years – and this means that many African Americans are in fact of probable Togolese descent! I was very pleased to read not two hours ago in the NY Times how the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church is trying to raise $100M to atone for their acts of slavery in 19th century Maryland – I hereby dedicate this gboma dessi recipe to the enslaved and hope they at last may rest in peace!
Togo, officially the Togolese Republic (French: République togolaise), is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea where its capital Lomé is located. It covers 57,000 square kilometres (22,008 square miles) with a population of approximately 8 million, and has a width of less than 115 km (71 mi) between Ghana and its eastern neighbor Benin.
From the 11th to the 16th century, tribes entered the region. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a trading center for Europeans to purchase slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name ‘The Slave Coast’. In 1884, Germany declared a region including a protectorate called Togoland. After World War I, rule over Togo was transferred to France. Togo gained its independence from France in 1960.
In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma led a successful military coup d’état after which he became president of an anti-communist, single-party state. Eventually, in 1993, Eyadéma faced multiparty elections which were marred by irregularities, and won the presidency 3 times. At the time of his death, Eyadéma was the ‘longest-serving leader in modern African history’, having been president for 38 years. In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president, and continues to hold the office as of 2022.
Togo is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation whose economy depends mostly on agriculture. While the official language is French, other languages are spoken, particularly those of the Gbe family. The largest religious group is Christian (43.7%) with the second largest being those with indigenous beliefs and there is a significant Muslim minority.
Togo is a member of the United Nations, African Union, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone, Francophonie, Commonwealth, and Economic Community of West African States.
Archaeological finds indicate that tribes were able to produce pottery and process iron. The name Togo is translated from the Ewe language as ‘behind the river’. During the period from the 11th century to the 16th century, tribes entered the region: the Ewé from the west, and the Mina and Gun from the east. Most of them settled in coastal areas.
The Atlantic slave trade began in the 16th century, and for the next two hundred years, the coastal region was a trading centre for Europeans in search of slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name ‘The Slave Coast’. In 1884, a paper was signed at Togoville with King Mlapa III, whereby Germany claimed a protectorate over a stretch of territory along the coast and gradually extended its control inland.
Its borders were defined after the capture of hinterland by German forces and signing agreements with France and Britain. In 1905, this became the German colony of Togoland. The local population was forced to work, cultivate cotton, coffee, and cocoa and pay taxes. A railway and the port of Lomé were built for export of agricultural products. The Germans introduced techniques of cultivation of cocoa, coffee and cotton and developed the infrastructure.
During the First World War, Togoland was invaded by Britain and France – the Togoland Campaign involved the successful French and British invasion of the German colony of Togoland during the West African Campaign of the First World War. Following the Allied invasion of the colony in August 1914, German forces were defeated, forcing the colony’s surrender on 26 August 1914.
On 7 December 1916, the Anglo-French coalition collapsed and Togoland was subsequently partitioned into British and French zones, creating the colonies of British Togoland and French Togoland. On 20 July 1922, Great Britain received the League of Nations mandate to govern the western part of Togo and France to govern the eastern part. In 1945, the country received the right to send 3 representatives to the French parliament.
After World War II, these mandates became UN Trust Territories. The residents of British Togoland voted to join the Gold Coast as part of the independent nation of Ghana in 1957. French Togoland became an autonomous republic within the French Union in 1959, while France retained the right to control the defense, foreign relations, and finances. The Togolese Republic was proclaimed on 27 April 1960.
As noted on the exceptional website togetherwomenrise.org:
Among the smallest countries in Africa, Togo occupies a narrow strip of land flanking the Gulf of Guinea. The southern third of the nation is ideal for agriculture and growing crops such as coffee, cocoa and maize. Fusing deeply rooted local traditions with both French and German colonial influences, Togolese cuisine is considered one of the finest and most unique on the continent.
Maize is a key component of meals in Togo. In fact, there’s an ancient Togolese proverb that says, “Do not roast all your corn in the winter.” Maize is by far the most common starch found in meals, but other sources of starch include yams, cassava, plantains and rice.
The Togolese typically consume two to three meals per day, each consisting of a starch and a source of protein. Breakfast in Togo may consist of fried eggs, various cereals or sliced avocado. Breakfast is always accompanied by tea, coffee, or Milo, an Ovaltine-like powdered drink manufactured by Nestle. During midday and evening meals, one can enjoy meals rich in flavor that include spiced chili sauces, peanut paste and palm oil.
Chili sauces are often made with tomato paste, oil and onions, and can even incorporate dried fish. Fish is a readily available source of protein due to the country’s location along the Atlantic. Togolese dishes often combine a variety of vegetables such as spinach and okra, which are grown in the country’s fertile farmland.
A staple of Togo’s cuisine and culture is fufu. Fufu is a traditional dish made from boiled yams, which are mashed into a dough and served with a variety of sauces and side dishes. Pates, another culinary staple of Togo, are made from maize floor or cassava and are also served with sauces made from vegetables or meats. Togo is also home to delicious fruits.
Mango trees are common and pineapple is in season year round. Foreign foods such as baguettes and German beers are commonly found in urban areas of Togo as well.
Table manners in Togo are similar to those of neighboring Western African countries. Most meals are eaten without the use of utensils and are placed in a large communal bowl. The left hand in Togo is considered dirty and indecent; as such, all meals eaten without utensils are to be eaten with the right hand only. This notion even extends to the preparation of meals. Women who are cooking will never use their left hand while handling food.
The Togolese make for generous dinner hosts and take great pride in entertaining guests. It is expected that a guest will treat the meal they receive with gratitude and appreciation. Avoid asking what a meal contains or smelling it before eating, as this is considered insulting to the host. A modest burp at the end of the meal is viewed as polite and a sign of satisfaction. Meals in Togo often continue even after eating has ceased, as they are highly social in nature.
Togolese people hold interpersonal relationships, presentation and first impressions in very high regard. Looking sharp when going out each day is important. Many people will adorn colorfully patterned pagne, dresses and two-piece outfits called complets. It’s not uncommon for family members to wear matching clothing, either. The Togolese insist on greeting each and every person they come across on the street with a simple “good morning!”
With individuals with whom they’re more personally familiar, people will ask a number of questions ranging from “how is your family?” to the more abstract “how is your patience today?”
Gboma dessi is probably the closest to a national dish of the country – and it is indeed a delicious and healthful way to enjoy your evening meal complete with beef, dumpling and veg, all well-spiced and enjoyable by all! I have attempted to stay – as always – ruthlessly authentic in this gboma dessi recipe and have every confidence you will find favor with its flavor! There are no ‘unusual’ ingredients or techniques in this delectable beef and spinach stew – the spicing is exceptional and the technique is by no means overly complex!
You will need just a few specific West African staple ingredients to make gboma dessi with My preferred level of authenticity which may not be in your pantry already – but African red palm oil and Nigerian Maggi stock cubes are really about it! You will also need some ground pumpkin seeds and some ajwain seeds – the rest of the ingredients for gboma dessi are commonplace. I shall refrain from going into more detail as I am exhausted trying to put this to virtual paper – and I am still hoping to shake this thrice-damned illness!
My glorious Citizens – I am sorry that being ill these last few weeks has kept Me from finishing this up as quickly and as strongly as I would have preferred – however, I hope (like Me!) you have learned through this series just how wonderful African recipes can be! Ranging from meals that seem straight out of a European kitchen to dishes that showcase the true native foods and techniques of the many different proud African peoples, this series has been nothing but a delight to research and share with TFD Nation! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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