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Throughout Asia, Latin America, and Central Africa food is cooked in packets made from banana leaves or similar leaves. In Central Africa, meat, chicken, or fish, plus other ingredients to make a sauce, are wrapped in large leves (banana or marantaceae leaves) and steamed in a pot or roasted on a grill. Throughout the Congo River area, the Lingala word, Liboké (plural, Maboké) is often used to refer to this method of preparation; Ajomba (or Jomba) is this dish's name nearer the Atlantic coast. It's also called Viande en Paquet, French for Meat in Packet. (See also: Liboké de Poisson.) Central Africa's Baton de Manioc is also cooked in banana leaves.
What you need
What you do
Note: the banana leaves should not be eaten.
Banana leaf cookery
Banana leaf cooking almost certainly pre-dates the Iron Age (though not in Africa, where bananas arrived after the use of iron was already spreading). Banana leaves are used to wrap food in Central America. In Asia, leaves of the Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis) are used in a similar way. Cooking in leaf packets is especially useful on trips away from home, since heavy pots need not be carried.
These leaves give the food a certain flavor that will be missing if they are not used, however aluminum foil can be substituted. If you do not live in the tropics, look for (frozen) banana leaves in International, Asian, and Latin American grocery stores. See also: Liboké de Poisson.
This quotation from L'Encyclopèdie Pahouine (the adjective "Pahouin" refers to the Fang people of Central Africa), describes a banana-leaf recipe of the Fang people. L'Encyclopèdie Pahouine was written in 1901 by M. Largeau. The quotation appears in Cuisine Africaine: Specialites du Gabon (Editions Universelles, Toulouse, 1985):
In an envelope of double or triple banana leaves, wrap meat or fish, salt, pepper and "Esu", a substitute of our onion, plus a sufficient quantity of water. Cook this either in a pot, or directly over a fire low enough not to burn the banana leaves. One thus obtains a sauce called "nnani" which is eaten with manioc; one dips a handful of manioc into the sauce. It's excellent!
The original French:
Dans une enveloppe double ou triple de feuilles de bananier, on met avec une quantité suffisante d'eau, de la viande ou du poisson, du sel, du piment et un succédané de notre oignon appelé "Esu". On fait cuire, soit dans une marmite, soit directement sur un feu doux auquel résistent les feuilles de bananier. On obtient ainsi une sauce appelée "nnani" dans laquelle on trempe, en mangeant, sa bouchée de manioc. C'est excellent!
Robert Nassau spent most of his life working as a missionary in Central Africa. He describes banana-leaf cookery in this quotation from Fetichism in West Africa: Forty Years' Observation of Native Customs and Superstitions (originally published in 1904 by Charles Scribners; reprinted in 1969 by Negro Universities Press--Greenwood Publishing Corp., New York). This quotation is part of a section about how a woman can cook up a charm to make a man fall in love with her. This involves adding a few other ingredients to the dish, which is given to the man, "unaware of the special mode of preparation". "West Africa" in the book's title refers to Africa's west coast region.
The most attractive native mode of cooking fish and meat is in jomba ("bundle"). The flesh is cut into pieces and laid in layers with salt, pepper, some crushed oily nut, and a little water. These all are tied up tightly in several thicknesses of fresh green plantain leaves, and the bundle is set on a bed of hot coals. The water in the bundle is converted into steam before the thick fleshy leaves are charred through. The steam, unable to escape, permeates the fibres of the meat, thoroughly cooking it without boiling or burning.
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