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A Taste of Kinshasa: Poulet à la Muambe

May 14, 2011

Photo by Hennie Niemand. Another variation of Poulet a la Muambe, from "African Spirit - The Food of the Two Congos"

Hands down, one the first (if not the first) thing I think about when traveling to a new place is the food.

Food is not only inseparably linked to local culture, but to local agricultural resources and local ingenuity as well.  And what better way to learn about all these aspects of a new place than to taste their products yourself… my favorite part, obviously.


And DRC is no exception.  The article “African Spirit – The Food of the Two Congos” provides a really interesting look at the history of the Congo, tidbits of knowledge on local cuisine, interspersed with a half a dozen recipes and some beautiful, beautiful photos- a highly recommended read.

Just like many place around the world, a typical Congolese dish follows a common formula: starch+meat+sauce

The staple food is cassava, also called manioc, a starchy and versatile tuberous root.  It can be boiled or fried and eaten like a potato, or dried and ground into a flour.

The most common way to eat cassava here in Kinshasa is when cassava root flour is made into a paste and fermented, then wrapped in banana leaves and boiled. This fermented state is called chikwangue in French or kwanga in Lingala.  The fermentation process gives off a distinctly sour smell, depending on how long it spends fermenting.

Personally, I find the not-as-fermented chikwangue to be pretty good- it doesn’t have a strong taste and more or less just absorbs the flavor of whatever sauce you eat it with.  The more-fermented chikwangue, however, smells like a stinky foot after a long day at work, thus rendering it completely unpalatable to me.

Other starchy foods that are eaten with dinner here are sweet potatoes, rice, fried or boiled plantains (usually cooked when ripe, adding a sweet flavor), and fufu,a side dish made from cassava or corn flour that has the consistency of play-dough… it’s really fun to eat with your hands.


Katie with fufu

Since this country is practically overflowing with rivers, it’s not too hard to guess that fish is a very common meat served up on Congolese plates.  I’ve seen small fish, enormous fish, eely fish, fish with whiskers, smoked fish, dried and salted fish, fried fish, fresh fish… plenty of fish.  We’ve tasted chicken, goat and occasionally beef or pork in Congolese dishes, as well.

There are also plenty of other animals that end up in the stew-pot here that back in the U.S. would more likely be found in the zoo (monkeys, crocodiles and antelopes) or as lovable family pets (rabbits and guinea pigs- sorry mom!- even domestic cats and dogs, rumor has it).

Although I’m usually more than ready to be adventurous in my willingness to try new foods, Jamie and I certainly won’t be tasting any monkey meat while we’re here or ever, since 1) monkeys are adorable and they are my friends and I love them 2) hunting has endangered some of the species that live here, as we learned at the Bonobo monkey sanctuary and 3) you never know what will be the next obscure tropical disease to make the jump from monkeys to humans since our DNA is so similar (the movie Outbreak… anyone?).

We’ll probably stay away from eating crocodile as well- neither of us want to contribute to the illicit yet poorly executed, Darwin award-worthy crocodile smuggling that has plagued local airline carriers

Another (in)famous Congolese dish that Jamie and I have not yet tried is chenilles et champignons- smoked or fresh caterpillars served with a mushroom sauce.  Jamie has no intention of tasting this one, though I fully intend to at least try it once.  The caterpillars are supposed to have a nice, mild nutty flavor… yummmm.

So, although there are a few parts of Congolese cuisine from which that may steer clear, Jamie and I certainly have tasted some delicious Congolese dishes so far.  Pondu is a stew made with pounded cassava leaves, sometimes with palm oil and dried fish, usually served with chikwangue or rice. Bitekuteku is a side dish of greens, similar to spinach.  Lituma is baked mashed plantains.  Liboke is amazing fresh river fish wrapped in banana leaves with peppers and other spices, and then slow cooked over coals.

Pili pili - sauce and peppers

Pretty much every dish is served with a hearty spoonful of pili-pili sauce on the side, made from alarmingly spicy chili peppers.

So, now that your appetite is sufficiently whetted (or maybe it’s not after reading about eating monkeys and starchy paste that smells like feet…), I present for your culinary delight a recipe for one of my favorite Congolese dishes, Poulet à la Muambe– chicken cooked in a peanut stew.

Our housekeeper, Carine, taught us how to make this one Saturday so that we could prepare it for our families when we went home for Christmas, which we did with great success. (Yes, we have a housekeeper and yes, she is amazing and we feel completely spoiled.)



Poulet à la Muambe



1 whole chicken (if you’re in the Bay Area, how about a nice pasture-raised heritage breed chicken from Dinner Bell Farm?)

1 t salt

a few dashes of ground ginger

1/2 cup green onion (chopped)

1/2 stalk celery (chopped)

bay leaf

1 small white onion (chopped)

6 cloves of garlic (crushed and chopped)

vegetable oil


2 big tomatoes

1 small onion

1/2 cup green onion

1/2 stalk celery

1 big green bell pepper

1 small eggplant

1/2 cup water

1/3-1/2 cup all natural peanut butter, depending on taste

1/2 t salt

1-3 small chili peppers (chopped or whole), depending on taste (in order of increasing spiciness: jalapeño, fresno, serrano, or Thai chili peppers would work well)

Prepare the Chicken

  1. Cut whole chicken into quarters or pieces (need help?  I learned how to cut a whole chicken here).  Cut small gashes in the meat and rub with ground ginger.

  2. Put chicken in a big pot and add salt, ginger, green onions, celery, bay leaf, onion and garlic.

  3. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat, flipping chicken pieces once.  Remove the chicken and set aside the remaining juice and cooked vegetables.
  4. Cover the bottom of a pan with oil and brown chicken on one side (about 10 minutes), then flip and brown the other side (about 10 minutes)
  5. Set chicken aside.  Save oil for the sauce.

Prepare the Sauce

  1. Chop all vegetables and then add tomato, onion, green onion, celery and bell pepper (all veggies except the eggplant) to the pot. Add the cooked vegetables that were set aside in Step 3 above (not the juice yet, keep saving that!)
  2. Add a few tablespoons of the oil that was used to cook the chicken in Step 5 above.  Cook on high heat for about 5 minutes
  3. Add chicken, chicken juice, water, peanut butter, eggplant, salt and chili peppers.  Simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add additional salt to taste, if needed.

Eat with rice and/or fried or boiled plantains, or some nice stinky chikwangue.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Melodee permalink
    June 18, 2011 5:35 pm

    I am going to try this without the chicken. Maybe use potato or chayote instead. Sounds yummy!

    • Katie R permalink*
      June 21, 2011 9:56 am

      Mmmmm… I love chayote! In New Orleans, they call it Mirliton and (surprise!) there’s even a Mirliton Festival every year at the end of the summer 🙂

  2. October 10, 2011 3:37 pm

    Yum…I know all those foods and miss them, especially chenilles. But now please post a recipe for Pili pili (the way they make it in Kinshasa) and Loso et modelo (beans and rice), Congolese style! :-))

  3. January 21, 2012 12:50 pm

    Katie ,I forgot how to make Pondu. With the leaves and palm oil.Nothing else . I forgot how they ferment it. I loved it when in bakoro.Or Mbandaka…The best I had was on the black river in Kitwik..

    Thank you
    I will never go back. Had malaria 14 times. Every 30 days..And govt . dangerous..


  1. Sombé – Manioc (Cassava) Leaves and Goat Meat in a Hot Sauce, Served with Manioc porridge « Dianabuja's Blog

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