Rice and Beans in Freetown
In Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, rice is synonymous with food. If someone asks you whether you’ve eaten, you should reply ‘yes’ only if you have eaten rice. Fruit and eggs for breakfast doesn’t count. But start your day with binch (beans) and rice and you will have eaten, and eaten well.
When I lived in Freetown a few years ago, binch and rice was my Friday ritual. For 3,000 leones (about 70 cents) I would buy from the street vendors on Kandeh Drive a mound of rice topped with a pile of black-eyed beans, gently cooked in onions, tomatoes, palm oil, and chili. The sauce, infused with small pieces of delicious fish, gave my lips a satisfying tingle. It would also fill me up until dinner.
Now, whenever I’m fortunate enough to return, I seek out binch with a degree of desperation. Asking taxi drivers, friends, colleagues for their advice about where I can find the best binch on any given day. And I still eat it for breakfast. I’ll even save what I can’t eat and put it in the fridge for lunch. Cold binch is in some ways better; it gives the oily sauce and the chili time to coat the rice, adding to the flavor.
This trip, I went slightly more upmarket. I splashed 10,000 leones (US$ 1.25) on binch in a restaurant on Brook Street, in Freetown’s neatly planned central business district. As I mixed the two bowls together and shovelled down mouthful after mouthful, I marveled at the wonderful, comforting combination of beans and rice. It feels wrong to eat something so stodgy and filling for breakfast—but it certainly doesn’t feel wrong when you’re eating it. This was a particularly good one; not too oily, hot enough to have me perspiring, but not too much.
As I struggled to get through the mound of rice before me, my taxi driver appeared, spoon in hand, with a look of glee and a question: “Do you need help?” I relented.
There is a fine balance to be had when eating binch between satisfied and functional for the rest of the day or unpleasantly full. We got it just right.
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