Food & Daily life

Mud architecture

Four-fifths of people in Burkina Faso live in rural communities. Although houses are different styles and shapes across the country, all Burkina’s traditional dwellings are made of mud.

  • Traditional houses in Burkina Faso
  • Bobo-Dioulasso mosque

Buildings have thatch or corrugated iron roofs. In certain regions, the mud walls of houses are painted with distinctive designs (see photo below).

House decoration

Kassena country house designsIn the south, the walls of houses in Kassena country are painted with dark geometric patterns, often in black and white.

Burkina is also known for its impressive mud mosques, like the Grand Mosque at Bobo-Dioulasso.

Inside the home

Ceramic pots of all shapes and sizes can usually be found in the home of a Burkinabe. The largest earthenware pots are known as canari and are used for keeping water cool. Others are used to store grains, such as those for brewing millet beer.

Many pots are decorated – for example, by pressing cord into the clay – and glazed inside. For women, the number and types of pots she owns are seen as a sign of her status.

The calabash is also a lifelong kitchen companion, because the skin of this gourd/squash can be used for a wide range of receptacles, from bowls and drinking cups to paint-pots and trays for food.

In some parts of the country, a woman’s calabash will be ceremonially broken at a certain time and place after she dies. It is the only object to be taken with her into the afterlife.

Burkina's foods

Favourite dish

Tô (Saghbo) is a dough-based meal of cooked millet, sorghum or corn, served with a sauce of vegetables (tomatoes, peppers and carrots) and maybe a little mutton or goat.

Staple foods include sorghum, millet, rice, maize, nuts, potatoes and yams. Dishes often have sauces of vegetables, fish or meat served with these staples.

Chicken dishes are a favourite. In the towns and cities, grilled chicken is cooked in the streets and called “poulet-bicyclette” (literally ‘chicken on a bicycle’, because the birds are carried on bicycles from the villages into town). Brochettes of meat cooked on a skewer are also common.

Because fresh milk goes off quickly in the hot climate, yoghurt or soured milk forms a regular part of the diet. Gapalo (soured milk with millet grains) is popular and usually drunk from a bowl.

  • Staple foods from Burkina Faso
  • Nuts and other favourites in Burkina Faso

The local beer

With its relaxed Muslim culture, many Burkinabes enjoy a dolo or chapalo, a home-brewed millet beer. Drunk mainly by men, it tends to be made by women, who sell their beer in local markets to earn a small living. Although they may give their husbands a first taste for free, after that, spouses are normally expected to pay too.

How is dolo or chapalo made? Beer is made by mixing ground millet with water and boiling this over hot coals. Yeast is then added and this is left to ferment overnight. The following morning, it’s ready to drink. But the fermentation process continues through the heat of the day, making the brew stronger and less sweet the later it’s drunk.