Tonight, David prepared a traditional West African dish for me — alloco. Deep-fried plantain pieces is a favourite of mine and takes me back to my childhood in Africa.

Alloco, March 2012
Deep-fried plantains ("alloco") is my favourite African street food.

I grew up in the West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire, and it was here that I was introduced to alloco. “Street food” — sold by vendors on the side the of the road — was a treat for us, equivalent to take-away fast-food, and my parents would buy alloco occasionally for a snack or to supplement our evening meal.

Carla, Lauren and Renee in front of the apartment in Cocody, circa 1988
From 1985-1991, we lived in a one-bedroom city apartment in the Abidjan suburb of Cocody, directly opposite Le Grand Marché. My sisters and I only spent a couple months a year here; the rest of the time we were at a boarding school in the north of the country. The other children who lived in the apartment blocks around us called us all "Carla" — it was easier for them to only remember my oldest sister's name. (Photo by S. Bissett)

When we were home, Friday nights were our favourite. My two sisters and I were each given 100 francs (cfa) and sent out to find our own food. At the time, 100 francs was worth about 30 Australian cents. I could divide up my 100 francs to buy 50 francs of alloco and a piece of baguette with a brochette in it. It was yummy! With inflation, prices went up, and our 100 francs slowly grew to 250 francs — still less than a dollar — but we would eat really well.

My family would always buy our alloco from the same person — a woman we knew only as “Tantie” or “Auntie”. She sat under a tree close to our apartment building and on the pathway to market, cooking up alloco in a great big pot of oil. Tantie greeted us every time we walked past, but in a confusing way. I could never work out if her “Ça où va?” was asking how I was or where I was going.

Plaintains, March 2012
When David brought the plantains home, they were hard and green. Remembering the ones that Tantie would use, I said they needed to be soft and black before they were good for alloco. Tonight, although they weren't completely black, we cooked them up.

Frozen plantains, March 2012
Plantains are sometimes also available as frozen food. These are exported from the Philippines by a company called Sagrex.

Making aloco, March 2012
Cutting up the plantains, we leave them in chunky pieces rather than cutting them finely.

Deep fryer, March 2012
We deep-fry our plantain pieces in olive oil. In Africa, it's cooked in palm oil.

Aloco in newspaper, March 2012
David presents me with a tidy package of alloco wrapped in newspaper — for old-time's sake. In West Africa, street food is always served in recycled paper — often newspaper, sometimes office sheets or school reports. The paper absorbs the extra oil as well as providing some reading material to enjoy while eating.

Alloco, March 2012
A small sprinkle of salt sprinkled on top makes the hot alloco even yummier.

Alloco is called dodo in Nigeria and kelewele in Ghana. Plantains are also great grilled over coals (or on a barbecue). They’re available in supermarkets that cater to an immigrant clientele, so you could try making alloco too.

If you’d like to try more West African recipes, the best books are available online for free. Wild Boar on the Kitchen Floor and The Crocodile Cookbook are both fine collections of traditional African recipes and Western dishes prepared with African ingredients.

It was fun introducing this part of my childhood with our children. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to where I grew up, so I’m starting to share more of my memories before I forget the background that has made me who I am today.

Girls dancing in Cocody, circa 1988
One weekend, the local girls decided to stage a concert and dance in the courtyard in front of our apartments. They dressed up, applied face paint, and sang and danced in the traditional style. (Photo by S. Bissett)

African boys with makeshift drums, circa 1988
The local boys could maintain a fancy rhythm from almost any type of container. (Photo by S. Bissett)

Now if you see plantains for sale, you’ll know what to do with them. Once you try alloco, you’ll be hooked! And please let me know if you give fried plantains a go.

You can discover more foods of the world here:

Finding My Way to Fabulous (and Freaky) Food by Keryn at Walkingon Travels

Persian Pomegranate Chicken and other Fantastic Foods of Iran.. by Susan V

Food from Guatemala – Marina K. Villatoro

Magical Easy-To-Make Israeli Madbukah

Traditional Dishes of Peru – Lainie Liberti of Raising Miro

Starting our Days with Turkish Breakfast

Gallo Pinto, Costa Rica’s signature dish – by Susan of Family Travel Bucket List

Taking the Kids to Yakitori Alley in Tokyo Japan-by Kristy Harris of Vagabond Kids