Monday, March 21, 2011
The temperature is definitely rising here in Niamey, Niger, and everyone keeps telling me that it is only going to get hotter in the coming months. By two in the afternoon, the streets are deserted. Even my dog, who is native to the Sahel, refuses to leave the safety of the shade and looks at me like a mad woman if I hold up her leash.
The height of the afternoon is best for relaxing in the shade with a nice cold drink, and Nigeriens know how to do it right! Although Coca Cola and other sodas are popular, they will never beat out local drinks like Bissap Juice (made from dried hibiscus calyxes), Ginger Juice, or Baobab Juice.
Bissap Juice is probably the most prevalent of the local drinks and can be found on almost any restaurant menu. You can even buy the thick syrup at the grocery store. But nothing is better than a glass of homemade Bissap Juice.
While shopping at the petit marché, I noticed a giant pile of what looked like brittle, crimson flowers sandwiched behind a bucket of limes. Having just bought a kilo of the limes, I plucked up enough courage to ask the vendor about the flowers. In Niger, if you buy a decent quantity of produce, the vendor usually gives you a "petit cadeau," or small gift, to entice you to return to his stall. The man kindly gave me two large handfuls of bissap so that I could give it a try.
My housekeeper, Paulina, was very happy with my spoils and showed me how to prepare the juice. When we went back to the marché several days later, I took her to the same vendor and we bought an entire bowlful, which is good for making about 12 liters of Bissap Juice. The following is Paulina's recipe:
Serving size: 6.5 liters
5 1/4 cups bissap
1+ liters water
1 handful fresh mint
2 1/2 cups sugar (or to taste)
*If you bought the bissap outside on a dusty day (we have many of them in Niger), rinse them off once with water.
- Bring 1 liter of water to a gentle simmer in a large pot.
- Add the bissap and mint and allow the water to come to a strong boil. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Pour the dark red juice through a sieve into a large bowl or basin to separate the flowers and mint from the liquid.
- Return the bissap and mint to the pot and cover with another liter of water (tap or bottled depending on the potability of your water).
- Strain this second batch of juice into the first batch of juice.
- Continue adding fresh water and straining until the flowers stop giving a strong red juice (2 to 3 times).
- Strain all of the juice one more time to get rid of any sediment.
- Add sugar and stir well to dissolve.
- Chill the juice in the refrigerator.
*Some people add a sprig of fresh mint to the juice as it chills.
*Bissap Juice makes great mixed drinks. My friend suggested adding it to vodka and orange juice. Will have to try this the next time we have a party!
Some notes on bissap:
Although dried bissap looks like a flower, it is actually the calyx of the hibiscus flower.
Some believe that bissap juice is a good diuretic, and that it can benefit those with high blood pressure.
Drinks made from bissap can be found all over the world from the Americas to Southeast Asia.
For more information on the plant that produces bissap, see this web site: