Growing up we spent Christmas Eve at my Aunt Beni and Uncle Ray’s house where their open-house festivities included dozens of friends, a roaring fire and the Italian-American feast of the seven fishes. I would hang out next to the kitchen while Aunt Beni fried smelt and baccala, eating the freshly fried goodies with my hands.
One of my favorite parts of eating out in Benin is the tradition of eating with your hands. Ignam pile, a specialty of northern Benin, is cooked yams pounded in a large mortar and pestle to encourage elasticity. The pounded yams are then formed into discs and eaten with a spicy tomato-based sauce. Pluck a piece of the mashed yams with your fingers, drag it through the sauce and slurp.
Before eating, wash your hands. Food stands have a hand washing station on each table with clean water, a bottle of soapy water and a bowl to wash over.
The yams on the left; the sauce on the right. The chunks in the sauce are wagashi cheese, a specialty of the Fulani people of northern Benin that is like fried tofu in consistency. Here is a great overview of the process of making the cheese by a former Benin Peace Corps volunteer.