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At the Northwest D.C. residence of Blaise Chérif, the Ambassador of the Republic of Guinea, his chef, Nestor Lamah, is presenting a table arrayed with traditional Guinean dishes.
"This is cassava leaves," Lamah says, pointing to a bowl filled with dark green chopped leaves. "And this is Sauce d'arrachide ou Kansiyé and Konkoé here, smoked fish."
Chérif says Guinea's cuisine varies by region: mid-Guinea, upper-Guinea, the coast and the forest. Chérif hails from the forest.
"The food [there] is a bit different from the one from the coast, the Conakry area, the capital area," he says. "So the basis of the food in Guinea is rice, whatever region you are in. But the sauce differs from region to another region.
"And when you are in the rural area, like in my village, we don't have individual plates," he explains. "We put food in a big plate and everybody eats with their hands. We don't use forks, we don't use a spoon, in the traditional manner."
Chérif adds that traditionally, people sit together outside when they eat.
"And whoever is passing we will call to him and invite him to come and eat," he says. "If you are passing, we don't know your name, we don't know where you are from. We are eating. We just invite you to come and sit and eat with us. This is the traditional way of life in Guinea. We live collectively. Not only the family, but in the village, the region."
When it comes to finding Guinean food in the D.C. region, Chérif says some stores sell Guinean products, but the closest Guinean restaurants he's found are in New York City.
"Once I will leave my job as ambassador, maybe I could get involved in business!" he says with a laugh.
Another traditional food in Guinea — and one of the Ambassador's favorites — is To, or Fou Fou. It's a kind of savory pastry with okra sauce.
Chérif says you won't find sweet pastries in Guinea; in fact, you won't really find any dessert-type food at all.
"Traditionally, there is no dessert in Africa," he says. "We have the main dish, rice or cassava. We eat it."
In terms of beverages in Guinea, Chérif says that also depends on the region, "because in my region we are not Muslim, so we are allowed to drink wine, to drink alcohol. So in my region we mainly drink palm wine, from the palm tree. It's really, really delicious."
[Music: "Yankadi Makru" by Mamady Keita from Nankama]
Photos: Eating in the Embassy - Guinea