What to Eat While in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire (also: Ivory Coast) is a country in West Africa with a southerly facing North Atlantic Ocean coast.

It is bordered by Ghana to the east, Liberia to the west, Guinea to the northwest, Mali to the north, and Burkina Faso to the northeast.

Close ties to France since independence in 1960, the development of cocoa production for export, and foreign investment made Côte d’Ivoire one of the most prosperous of the tropical African states, but did not protect it from political turmoil.

In December 1999, a military coup – the first ever in Côte d’Ivoire’s history – overthrew the government. Junta leader Robert Guei blatantly rigged elections held in late 1999 and declared himself the winner. Popular protest forced him to step aside and brought runner-up Laurent Gbagbo into liberation. Ivorian dissidents and disaffected members of the military launched a failed coup attempt in September 2002. Rebel forces claimed the northern half of the country, and in January 2003 were granted ministerial positions in a unity government under the auspices of the Linas-Marcoussis Peace Accord. President Gbagbo and rebel forces resumed implementation of the peace accord in December 2003 after a three-month stalemate, but issues that sparked the civil war, such as land reform and grounds for citizenship, remained unresolved.

Elections were finally held in 2010 with the first round of elections being held peacefully, and widely hailed as free and fair. Laurent Gbagbo, as president, ran against former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara. On 2 Dec 2010, the Electoral Commission declared that Ouattara had won the election by a margin of 54% to 46%. The majority of the rest of the world’s governments supported that declaration, but the Gbagbo-aligned Constitutional Council rejected it and then announced the country’s borders had been sealed.

The presidential election led to the 2010–2011 Ivorian crisis and to the Second Ivorian Civil War. After months of unsuccessful negotiations and sporadic violence, the crisis entered a critical stage as Ouattara’s forces seized control of most of the country.

By Apr 2011, pro-Ouattara forces had penetrated Abidjan and street-level combat between the two sides led to the capture of Gbagbo and the situation has now stabilised. However, many governments are still advising their citizens against travel to Côte d’Ivoire even though several thousand UN peacekeepers and several hundred French troops remain in Cote d’Ivoire to support the transition process.

What to eat in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)

Grilled “braisé” (pronounced “BRA-zay”) fish and chicken are very good and can be found on at outdoor restaurants called maquis (pronounced “MAH-key”). Try the national dishes like “alloco” and “attiéké”. Alloco (pronounced “AH-low-coh”) is simply fried plantains, mostly accompanied by a spicy sauce called piment (pronounced “PEE-monh”). Attiéké (pronounced “AH-check-ay”) is fermented cassava (yams) that looks like couscous but taste slightly sour–is often served with grilled chicken or fish and vegetables (tomatoes, onions, cucumber) and a must-try. Usually white rice or french fries are starchy alternatives to alloco and attiéké as side dishes. Another specialty is the excellent “shougouilla” a blend of charbroiled meat! You can always ask for extra vegetables, especially avocados, which are amazing during the season.

Service can take a while at a maquis — typically women cook and sell the food and men sell the drinks, so don’t be surprised if you’re billed separately for food and drinks. Since one typically eats with one’s hands at a maquis, usually they will have a sink or offer a bucket and soap for hand washing before and after you eat. Note that locally people eat only with their right hands and kleenex are used for napkins.

You can find most typical maquis food at more mainstream restaurants too, usually mixed with standard French and international dining options. In Abidjan, Lebanese food is another good offering, and there are several fancy (and expensive) French restaurants that are very good. Vietnames nems (fried spring rolls) are very popular and cheap.

When in doubt, skip getting a burger, local beef is very dry. Fish and lobster are usually freshly caught if you’re near the coast. Fresh fruits, like mangoes, pineapple and papaya are everywhere, and are the best in the world when in season.

Be aware that it’s common for locals to say that dishes containing chicken or fish are vegetarian since they don’t have “meat” in them, so it’s helpful to clarify if you’re looking to avoid it.

Drinking

The drinking age in Côte d’Ivoire is supposedly 21. However it is not enforced.

It is recommended for visitors from the west to visit bars and night clubs with security. Havana Club and others are in Zone 4 or Zone Quatre. If you do go, be aware of prostitutes that will want to talk to you. Other places are in Treicheville and Cocody but you should have private transportation or a cab.

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