22 April 2008

Let them eat spaghetti

When I last visited Liberia in January, there was much talk of higher rice prices and their impact on people's eating habits. After all, the Kennedy School's Nolan Miller has shown that rice consumers sometimes exhibit Giffen behaviour - that is, they consume more when the price rises, because they have had to cut back spending on vegetables, meat or other foods. (His paper is due to be published in the American Economic Review).

I had been hoping that Liberians would respond to the rising price of imported rice by switching to home-grown country rice, which tastes just as good but often has rocks in it and is difficult to find in the capital.

People often told me that "people in Monrovia won't eat country rice". But the Liberian palate may be more flexible than that! The BBC's Katie Price reports that restaurants in Monrovia have started serving spaghetti. A plate costs $1 - half that of a plate of rice. Could be good with a hot chilli sauce. I have eaten spaghetti in Somali restaurants, where the Italian influence on cooking lingers, but this is the first time I have seen or read about it being served in West Africa. Sadly, I doubt this will be a lasting response to the food crisis, because most Liberians don't eat in restaurants and the price of wheat has been going up too.

Now, how about making spaghetti from cassava flour?


Alex said...

Last May, I was in Abidjan for a week. Nearly every little street restaurant served spaghetti with a spicy meat (sausage possibly?) as the main plate. Most of the people I saw sitting at these maquis chose to eat the spaghetti as well, as it was quite tasty.

Penelope said...

In the Liberian refugee settlement of Buduburam, in Ghana, spaghetti is hugely popular as street food - it is in fact cheaper than a rice dish (about 60 cents for a plate of spag, with an egg on top). In Ghana, Burkina and Mali, I found plenty of those chop bars/maquis/fast food spots selling spaghetti, bread and egg and porridge. (the place I ate at regularly in Ghana was run by two guys from Sierra Leone)