The informant has a lot of different parts of her background which influence her. Her family is Haitian and Comorian (an island off the coast of Africa) and she is still close with family who live in those places and visits often. She grew up for the first 10 years of her life in the U.S., but then spent the rest of her life living in Paris, France until she decided to come to school in the U.S. She likes to say that she’s a hodge-podge of different identities.
The informant made this dish for the eight people she is living in a dorm with at college for a special “finals study break with a little bit of [her] culture.” She then described how to make the dish to me. She said that she originally learned how to make the dish from her sister.
Text (J is the informant, M is the collector)
J: So, chicken mafé is a Senegalese dish and the best American translation for it would kinda be like “peanut butter chicken.” So, you start obviously by, like, cleaning your chicken. My mom taught me that the best way to do it is, like, after you’ve cleaned it — you know like, rinsed it off, and taken off the skin, and you’ve put in the vinegar and everything– you put it also in coffee, because it really gets rid of the smell. So, hot coffee. And, then, um… you.. cook the chicken a bit before. At least, I do. Um… with like, you know, just generally salt, pepper.. Barely.. Just, maybe a tiny bit of olive oil, onions, garlic. Really get all that in there. And then.. Um… once you’ve got it a tiny bit browned, you add in, uh, one tomato, a BUNCH of peanut butter.
M: (Laughing) Very scientific amount
J: I mean, African… when you — African dishes don’t ever.. Like, I’ve never heard of an African dish that has actual measures. Like, my Grandmother’s tried to teach me a bunch of stuff. She’d just like “just, add these in. And.. YES.” Um.. and so, yeah.You cook that. Um.. you wanna, maybe — it depends how thick you want the sauce, you might wanna add a bit of water to it. Or don’t. I like having the sauce really.. slightly… like pretty thick. My mom likes it a bit less thick, so she always tells me to add some water to it. Um, and, yeah, let’s see: garlic, onions, tomatoes, peanut butter, salt, pepper.. chicken, obviously. And, I mean, some basic spices, i guess. Like, you could add cayenne pepper, if you wanted to, or stuff like that, but..
M: Yeah, so, did you learn this recipe from your mom or grandma or who did you learn it from?
J: Um.. so, I learned this one, actually, from my big sister. Because, uh, chicken mafé is one of her favorite African dishes, but it’s not a dish from where we’re actually from. But.. So, she learned it from one of my aunts — or, like, well, the African version of aunt, so really one of our close friends– who is senegalese. Um, so, the aunt taught her how to do it and she taught me how to make it, and.. Yeah.
M: And would you make it with your sister?
J: Uh, I think I made it once with my sister. The few other times I made it, I made it when I actually got.. well, since, like, I’ve been in the U.S. Either, like, for other people or friends, or, yeah. I always make a ridiculous amount, too, because I’m so used to making it in African portions that I’ve forgotten. Which is ridiculous, because you’d never think that African portions are bigger than American portions, but, hey.
I thought it was interesting how the informant identified with this dish as a part of her culture, even though it is from a completely different part of Africa than where she’s from. I think, in the context of serving this dish to a group of Americans, this foodway was used to assert her general African-ness, rather than demonstrate a specific part of her Comorian culture.
For another version of this recipe, see:
Lam, Francis. “Chicken Mafe Recipe.” NYT Cooking. The New York Times Company, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.