I don’t recommend a trip to Benin for its culinary treasures. Once here, however, go out of your way to eat at Chez Houssou in Adjarra near Benin’s capital, Porto Novo.
There is little ambiance, service is hit or miss and vegetarians should steer clear. But if you like pork, this is the place for you. Pigs are butchered on the premises before being spiced and grilled over a wood fire. Spicy and smoky, the pork is delicious on its own. Its the free accompaniments, however, that set Chez Houssou apart from the competition. Three types of homemade hot sauce – one made from fresh green chiles, one made from dried red chiles, one made from ground black pepper, fresh ginger and garlic – along with raw onions cut the rich, fatty meat just enough to keep you popping the pork bits in your mouth indefinitely.
Even better, a plate of meat comes with a side bowl of ‘sauce’ as well. More like soup, the dark red-brown sauce is a mildly spicy, complex broth with pig’s blood as its base. No spoon comes with your sauce/soup, though; everything is eaten with your hands. The one choice offered to diners is between piron and akassa as the starchy canvas that you will dip into your pig’s blood sauce. Go with the piron. At its base is gari, dried and ground manioc. Tasty on its own, pig fat is added as it cooks making it a decadent scoop for your pig blood sauce.
Like liver, ears or intestines? Everything is available. Just tell your waitress. Or, like me, stick to the familiar parts of the animal. A little mound of about six to eight bite-sized pieces costs 500 cfa ($1). I usually stop myself after two platefuls of meat but could polish off $10 worth if gluttony got the better of me. Calling this Benin’s best restaurant might be an overstatement. But I stand by it. If you are nearby, come join the crowd.