”Lamou saff, kako niam moko xamm”
English Translation: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating”
It’s 7a.m and I can’t mistake my human alarm clock for anything in the world. My mother’s voice in all its calmness would breeze through the room with a stern ‘You girls had better wake up now so we can finish up early‘. I pretend not to hear, but a second ‘visit’ to my room would always get me scurrying out of bed like the idiomatic mouse. It was Saturday, the day after Good Friday. The previous day, I’d taken delight in stuffing my little tummy with all sorts of naanburu, sent to us by our Catholic family and friends. Okay, get that confused look off your face. I’ll explain what naanburu is. A direct translation would give ‘drinking bread’, but I’ll refrain from going down that path. Naanburu is a mixture of steamed rice balls, baobab juice and sugar that ends up being a sumptuous dessert, or in the case of Good Friday, a great meal! On this day, Christians(mainly Catholics) prepare naanburu and share with their family and friends as they celebrate the end of the Lenten Season. It could be likened to the traditional sharing of lamb on Eid al Adha. At home, it had gradually become a tradition to prepare our naanburu on the Saturday(Better Saturday?), for the simple reason of avoiding waste. I have never been fully convinced, but er, let’s just say I’ve accepted the practice.
On the eve of our Better Saturday, my mom would measure out a lot of rice, mixing the variety to obtain the perfect texture. The rice would then be soaked up, allowed to dry and get ground into powder. At night, we’d all sit in a circle, calabashes and bowls in hand, slowly transforming the powder into small balls, an activity known as ‘Arraw‘. The kids would usually be exempted from this, as their arraw skills are not usually satisfactory. After going through the many tubs of rice powder, the finished product is then poured into plastic bags and stored in the freezer, ready to use the next day. Early Saturday morning, the older women would wake up an hour earlier and set up fire stoves at the back of the family compound. Pots of varying sizes, filled with boiling water are used to steam the rice balls until cooked , after which the younger ladies would set to work, preparing the rich delicacy:naanburu. The uniformity in movement, supervision from my mother, hearty conversation around the huge tubs and the excitement of going around town distributing bowls of naanburu are what I truly miss today. The regular recipients of the DaCosta Kunda naanburu never failed to give us ‘feather-in cap’ moments. I remember a particular family in Kanifing Estate, whose kids would always wait outside for us and exclaim happily ‘Mama, naanburu bu nexx bi niowna‘, meaning the great-tasting naanburu had arrived. My sister would make sure to keep bragging about this, even when we’d all grown used to the compliments. Don’t get it twisted, it might not even be the best naanburu in The Gambia. Yup, that’s me trying to be modest :-D. We would spend the whole day, usually from 1pm to night time, distributing naanburu all over town, from Banjul to Brikama. Exhaustion would finally get the better of us and while everyone prepared for Easter Eve mass, my sister and I would gladly seek our beds, trying to catch some sleep before the midnight parties started. Below, I’ll give a short naanburu recipe for my dear Linguerites, taken directly from the head and written with hands experienced in the art of naanburu-preparation. Promise me you won’t show any disappointment, even if it’s what you feel after reading.
Ingredients (No quantities stated. Use just as much as you need)
Rice; Baobab Fruit; Sugar; Water; Salt; Flavouring Essence; desiccated coconut(optional); Fresh Bananas(optional); Milk(optional)
Wash and soak rice in clean water for about two hours. Strain out, allow to dry and grind into powder(preferably with a machine). Sieve to get finer texture.
Clean baobab fruit and soak for about an hour. Mix and strain with sieve or clean cloth to get baobab juice. Set aside.
Using a calabash or wide bowl, roll rice flour into small/medium-sized balls. Leave to sit for a moment.
Steam over a pot of boiling water, in a colander covered with clean, moist cloth.
When cooked(colour changes from white to almost transparent), pound gently in mortar and pestle, if available. Otherwise, proceed to next step.
Half-fill tub/bowl with water and pour steamed rice balls into it.
With hands washed clean from the elbow down, mix by kneading gently and crushing balls between fingers until white, creamy mixture is obtained. Water may be added to get preferred consistency.
Add baobab juice, sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix.
Add desiccated coconut and sliced bananas. Be careful not use these in excess as you do not want them to outshine the naanburu itself.
Et voila! Your naanburu is ready to be served/shared/enjoyed! You may add milk to it while eating. Bon appetit 🙂
For better-tasting naanburu, allow me to share a small tip and then er, thank me later. Leave naanburu in fridge for a day or two. Stir and add milk. Enjoy the burst of heavenly flavors in your mouth. You’re welcome.
As I lie in anticipation of taunting pictures from the little sister, I might just prepare some ngalakh, which is the Senegalese equivalent for naanburu. Prepared with millet, peanut butter, baobab and flavouring, it just might be a good enough solution to my naanburu cravings. Linguere would like to wish all Christians a happy Easter. I pray that God acknowledges your 40 days of fasting and answers all prayers, inshallah. May the peace and tolerance that reigns between people of different faiths in The Gambia continue and extend to the rest of the world. Always keep the reason for the season in mind. While you eat your naanburu, remember ”Lamou saff, kako niam moko xamm”!
~Beh benen aljuma~