What food Items, spices etc. are
avaliable to the cook in Timbuktu? besides the imported
canned and dry good there are many vegetables and
tradtional herbs gathered locally or in neighbouring
countries. This list is in no way exhaustive and doesn't
begin to cover the extensive list of plant products used
for strictly medicinal purposes.
The famous 14 spices of Timbuktu: many people giving the speal today say the 12 spices and a lot of the men in tourism won't be able to list even all of those for you. In fact for the special sauces there are traditionally 14 spices used as listed below
- salt. Called chiray in Songai and meuhl in hassaniya, the salt in Timbuktu all comes from the mines of Taoudeni. One may break a chunk off a block or purchace a small bag of broken peices of even powder left from venders who have sawed the large slabs into more managable blocks for sale.
- pepper corns called alhorabi in Songai
- cinamon sticks called kalf in Songai
- bay leaves (laurial)
- cumin seeds called maffe jay in Songai
- anis seeds called maffe alhellouwa in Songai
- dried powdered tomato
- dried roasted onion. The onion used here has not simply been dried it has been roasted bringing out a lovely arroma.
- hot peppers. Small triangular peppers that look like jalopinos
- kabay. A sort of lichen that grows on tree bark, Evernica sursuraceae
- wangaray maffay jay This strange seed has a strong odour that reminds me of something from a conifferous forest. Only a couple are necessary to a dish. I have yet to find the sientific name for this plant.
- maray, called sumbala in Bambara, is a substance made from the Parkia biglobosa or African Bean Locust. The seeds are pounded to a paste and they left to partiall ferment before portions are mesured out, a three-finger pinch (as shown), a handfull rolled into a ball, and let dry. The substance is added to many dishes and could be considered the tranditional equvilant of the ubiquitous boullion cube. It has a strong flavour somewhat reminicant of dried fish, however in moderation it works well as a flavour enhancer. Two or Three of these small lumps are sufficiant for the maffay recipe give on this site.
- Dates. Many varrieties of dates are available on the markets of Timbuktu, a small moist varriety is typically used for the sauce. Soaked, pitted and pounded to a paste it naturally sweetens the sauce.
- A mixed ball of dried onion and other stuff
Other commoon spices:
Wakundo is a small dried seed pod, locals consider the seed to be useless so the pod is lightly pounded to release the seeds which are removed before the slightly fiberous pod is pounded to powder and added to the pot.
Jissuma. The local name for hibiscous is high in Vitamin C and Folic Acid. The dried leaves of a local wild varitey provided the base of one of the standard dishes of timbuktu, fresh leaves are steamed and mixed with some spices to make a savoury side dish for the standard fish and rice served in the south of Mali, Mauritania and in Senegal. The red flowers of this same plant are used to make a refreshing beverage or a tea.
Zisiphus mauritanius, a small, thorny tree produces these marble-sized fruits. In the upper right corner you will see a small pile of the seeds. As you can see there is not much flesh, but it is sweet and tasty whether dried or fresh. The French have dubbed these fruit jujubes. Some of these trees are cultivated in California.
Balanidies aegvptiaca is another desert thorn tree, this one with thorns two inches long. The fruit of this tree is dubbed “wild date” due to a certain similarity in the shape. There is no other relationship niether botanical nor in taste. The upper right hand pile in the photo is the ripe fruit. It is encased in a thin crusty skin that must be removed prior to eating, This usually flakes off easily after applying light pressure. The bottom image is the pealed fruit and the upper left the seed. Again not much meat, it has a slightly bitter taste (it was once equated to old gym socks, but I think that an exaggeration) and is an acquired taste. It is, however purported to ease headaches.
Other herbs are used less frequently as a spice and more for medicinal purposes.
Kinkileba Combretum micranthum belived to have medicinal properties such as malaria prevention and detoxification. The leaves of this trees are steeped for a long time, strained and sweetened to taste served hot with some lemon and occasionally mint it makes a tasty bush tea. While, thought to have medicinal properties, Kinkiliba is a popular beverage during the cold months especially used at break-fast time during the month of Ramadan.
Another popular beverage during Ramadan is a variety of zrig (sweetened, diluted, soured goats milk) into which following two spices, bani (otherwise called salaha) and al kamuuna respectively are added along with some of the hot pepper listed above. The bani is called tanin in French and comes from the Acacia nilotica. It is also used in the tanning of hides, preparation of marroon ink in traditional caligraphy and in the preparation of the banco used to coat the mud brick houses
alandake fiscus umbellata roots for flavouring water
Detarium micocarpum used to make perfumed necklaces