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from: Central Africa | cooking method: boiling-simmering

Saka-Saka (Cassava Leaves)

Saka-Saka (Saca-Saca, Sakasaka, and also known as Mpondou, Mpondu, or Pondu) is the Congolese word for cassava leaves, and the name of a dish made from them. Could "saka" be a Congolese pronunciation of "cassava", doubled for an emphasis on quantity to name a dish wherein cassava leaves are the main ingredient?

Central African people seem to be unique in their consumption of cassava leaves, which are cooked as greens. Elsewhere in the world, the cassava (or manioc, yuca, or yucca) plant is cultivated only for its tubers.

Cassava leaves are found only in the tropics. If you can pick your own fresh cassava leaves, select the smaller, newer leaves; the larger, older ones are tough. If cassava leaves are not available, substitute collards, kale, turnip greens, or similar.

traditional dance in eastern congo

What you need

What you do

Many Central African cooks use baking soda, or a piece of rough potash, to give a salty flavor to soups and sauces. This replicates the flavor of traditional salts which are obtained by burning the barks or leaves of certain plants. This was necessary because there is no other source of salt in much of Central Africa.


Robert Hamill Nassau

The most valuable article . . . was salt

American missionary Robert Hamill Nassau lived in Central Africa (in what is now Gabon) for over forty years. In My Ogowe: Being a Narrative of Daily Incidents During Sixteen Years in Equatorial West Africa (The Neale Publishing Company, New York, 1914) he describes a process to derive salt from banana leaves (a similar process is used to get salt from the bark of certain trees), and how he traded salt for food. The Ogowe river is more commonly known today as the Ogooué.

The most valuable article, for purchasing food-supplies, was salt. Originally, the natives in the Ogowe had almost no salt. Feeling the need of some condiment besides the indigenous cayenne-pepper, the skins of ripe plantains and bananas were sun-dried, and then carefully reduced to ashes. This gray ash, having a potash taste, they sprinkled on their food. Subsequently, the coast tribes, in their interior journeys for slaves, carried salt which they had evaporated from sea-water (in imported large brass pans called "neptunes"). It was worth almost its weight in gold. The interior men reserved it for their own use, allowing none to women and children. At the time of my entrance into the Ogowe, white traders had begun to introduce foreign salt. But, it was still so valued an article, that, I, in purchasing provisions, measured it out, only by the tablespoonful, into the the hand of the native. Little children, standing by, eagerly picked up any few grains that happened to fall to the ground, enjoying it, as our [American] . . . children enjoy a piece of candy.
(Chapter VII -- At Kasa's Town -- April - June, 1875)


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