Every country has their own specialties when it comes to beverages. In Sierra Leone, the best drinks are fresh, cheap and perfect for the hot tropical climate. Here are five drinks that should try out when visiting Sierra Leone.
Bissap is the Sierra Leonean name for brewed hibiscus flowers with added vanilla and sugar. This swit swit drink is sold everywhere on the streets in re-used plastic bottles. It tastes like vimto, or grape juice, with a mild sour twang to it. It’s bright red colour does well in cocktails.
Where to get it: street vendors (can get funky in the tummy), local restaurants
Price: 1000-5000le (0.20- $0.70)
Only for those with an iron stomach and an almost obsessive love for ginger. Sierra Leonean ginga bia is fierce, hot and sugary. Sometimes it is so strong that it could serve as a syrup. Ginger beer should be served ice cold and goes very well mixed with bissap. Promise.
Where to get it: street vendors (can get funky in the tummy), restaurants
Price: 1000-5000le (0.20- $0.70)
Tamarind juice, or tombe juice, is a sweet-sour fresh drink made of the pulp of the fruit. It is not really sold as a drink on the street, but little bags of tombe are sold everywhere, which you can then mix with honey or sugar and water at home. For those who are willing to go a step further, try having it with cayenne pepper and maggi stockcubes. It is a sensory challenging experience, but does not taste bad.
Where to get it: street vendors sell small plastic bags of tombe
Price: 1000le per bag ($0.20)
Fanta? Yes, Fanta. Not the yellow, sour Fanta you buy in Europe. No, Sierra Leonean Fanta is bright orange and way sweeter than its European cousin. In fact, it actually tastes like oranges. The Fanta is bottled here in Freetown, and the tall, glass bottles have been re-used so many times that the glass has become somewhat clouded.
Where to get it: Fula shops, local restaurants, local bars
Price: 2000le per bottle ($0.30)
Palm Wine (Poyo)
Palm wine, or poyo, is the sap of coconut palms that has been fermented into a beloved alcoholic beverage. The longer the sap ferments, the higher the percentage of alcohol in the drink. This means that freshly tapped poyo is sweet and light, whilst poyo that has been tapped for 12 hours becomes an alcoholic bomb that leaves many with impressive headaches. When poyo comes straight from the palm tree, Sierra Leoneans say that it came from God to Man. Which does not just indicate how tasty poyo is, but also how much Sierra Leoneans love the drink.
Where to get it: In the provinces, Waterloo or at bars in Tokeh. You can often see people selling the white beverages in jerry cans or in plastic bottles on the side of the road. Because poyo is better when it’s fresh, it’s better to buy it when you get the opportunity. However, if you really want to try it out and don’t have the time to stumble upon it, ask any Sierra Leonean who drinks alcohol on where to get poyo and they will be happy to help you out (and help you drink).
Price: from 20.000-40.000 per gallon (3-5$)
Esther Kamara is a Dutch-Sierra Leonean that was born and raised in Amsterdam. After finishing her bachelor Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam she moved to Freetown, where she now works as a freelance writer and artist manager. Her brainchildren are otherworldly short stories and peculiar drawings of non-existing characters.