Food shopping for food in Bamako usually requires going to several locations for the items on a list. There are open-air markets, several small grocery stores, tiny neighborhood boutiques, bakeries, and butchers. Door-to-door vendors sell fish, pork, and vegetables. A good variety of food can be found in Bamako. Stores and boutiques generally have fixed prices and are open between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., and again between 3:30 and 8 p.m., except on Sundays, when most places are either closed or only open until 1 p.m. The market is bustling at almost any time of the day although some vendors close for a long lunch break. There are no fixed prices, so bargaining is in order. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold in outdoor markets or by vendors who come to the door. A variety of fruits and vegetables are grown, although availability, quality, and price depend upon the season.
Vegetables are generally available year round, including potatoes, onions, leeks, garlic, parsley, celery (very small stalks, mostly leaves, but adequate for cooking), lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, green bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, and okra. Available for short periods in season are beets, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, squash, spinach, corn (field corn), turnips, green cabbage, peas, green onions, and sweet potatoes. Fruits available in season are mangoes, papayas, bananas, guavas, coconut, pineapples, oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, strawberries, watermelon, melon, and avocados. Local fresh fruits and vegetables are generally less expensive than in the U.S. Imported apples are available most of the year and on occasion, other fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, asparagus, endives, mushrooms, Pascal celery, peaches, cherries, pears, grapes, nectarines and apricots can be found in the grocery stores. Imported fruits and vegetables are imported from France and Lebanon and are extremely expensive. Peanuts are available year round in the market; almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachio nuts are available in the stores at high prices. Herbs and spices are also found in the market: mint, fresh ginger, basil, hot pepper, caraway seeds, cilantro (Chinese parsley), bay leaves, nutmeg, lemon grass (citronella), peppercorns, salt, curry, bouillon cubes, and many local spices, such as ground baobab leaves. Imported spices are available at very high prices in the grocery stores.
Mali also raises good beef, pork, and mutton, which are sold in the market and in several small butcher shops. Beef and mutton purchased in the open market are freshly butchered and should be frozen before use. Beef is quite flavorful, but very lean and often tough so it is useful to bring meat tenderizers and marinades to post. The French style of cut is available, though some butchers can do U.S. cuts. Chickens are frequently skinny and tough. Imported bacon, ham, and sausages are available in grocery stores and butcher shops, but are relatively expensive. Chicken, turkey, pigeon, guinea hen, and rabbit are also sold in the market, as are river fish (Nile Perch or capitaine) and carp. Both poultry and fresh fish are expensive by U.S. standards. Frozen shrimp is sold in grocery stores at very high prices. Canned seafood and fish (tuna, salmon, etc.) are also available. Eggs are available in the market and stores. Fresh milk can be found but must be boiled before use. UHT (ultra-high temperature) long-life milk is sold both in whole, 2%, and skimmed forms; it does not need refrigeration until opened. Powdered whole milk (full cream), butter (salted and unsalted), and margarine are available, as is long-life cream.
There is a good selection of European cheeses (Gouda, Edam, Cheddar, Roquefort, Camembert, Brie, Gruyere, several other French and Lebanese cheeses, and goat's milk cheese), but these are over $10 per pound. Cottage cheese, mozzarella, and cream cheese are usually available. Imported créme fraíche (cultured cream), whipping cream, yogurt, and ice cream are available, but very expensive. Mali Lait, the local milk producer, has passed Embassy Health Unit tests on its milk, yogurt, and ice cream but their products have a short shelf life. Yogurt makers and ice cream freezers are useful items to ship to post but it is also possible to make (or teach your cook to make) these items at home without special equipment. Infrequent shortages of staples such as butter, eggs, milk, and sugar do occur.
Several grocery stores and neighborhood shops offer a variety of packaged goods and canned items such as fruits, juices, vegetables, soups, fish, and meat. The quality of some of the canned goods available is not as high as equivalent American items. Paper products, dairy products, sausages, ham, and cold cuts are available. Also found are liquors, a wide selection of wines (mostly French but some Spanish, Australian, and a few Californian), local and European beer, soft drinks, and fruit juices; cookies and crackers; jams and honey; soaps, detergents, and cleaning products; coffee and tea; spaghetti, macaroni and couscous; oils, vinegar, sauces and condiments; cocoa and spices. There are even some specialty items for Chinese and Vietnamese cooking such as soy sauce and rice wrappers for spring rolls.
Most of the items stocked in the stores are imported from Europe but some U.S. products introduced to Europe end up on local shelves. Imported items are expensive. Jars of baby food and baby cereal are sold in the stores; however, there is not much variety; they are expensive and items are often out of stock. High quality European baby formulas are usually available in the pharmacies and are less expensive than American brands. Local bakeries carry French-style bread (baguettes), pastries, and pain de mie, loaf-style breads similar to, but heavier than, American bread. Whole wheat and white flour is available, though most people either bring their own or buy from the Commissary.
Cake and cookie decorating items and food colorings are available in limited variety at some of the shops. Canned pet food is so
ld in the grocery stores. Most pet owners prefer to have pet food prepared at home, using rice, meat, and vegetable scraps. Pet products such as flea collars, worm medicines, medication, and shampoos, rawhide chew bones and toys are not available and should be brought to post. Malian, French, and some American brands of cigarettes can be found. Pipe tobaccos are not available but Middle Eastern apple tobacco often is.
The American Community Services Association of Mali (ACSAM) operates a small commissary for U.S. Government employees and contractors who have duty-free privileges. The commissary carries American foodstuffs such as cereal, baking goods, frosting, brown and confectioners sugar, vanilla and other extracts, unsweetened chocolate, chocolate chips, cake and pancake mixes and shortening. Also, sauces, condiments, pickles, jams, syrups, peanut butter, canned soups (mushroom, tomato, etc.), cereals, gelatins, puddings, candy, nuts, cookies, crackers, juices, liquors and wines, Chinese and Mexican food products, personal products, cleaning products and paper goods are all available but in limited quantity and variety.
In rural Mali normally the food is served in a large bowl (sauce over millet), and people sit around the bowl and eat out of the same bowl with their right hands.
Typically Mali's can only raise enough food for their own survival. The typical farm tool is an old fashion hand tool. Many women use gourds to water the crops as their ancestors did. They grow cassava, corn, millet, rice, sorghum and yams for food. Some of the people herd cattle as well.