Islam teaches believers to respect one’s guests, show good hospitality and aspire to maximize the comfort one can afford their guests. The Darfuri royal court extended this understanding of Islamic hospitality even further.

Darfur in Western Sudan has a fascinating history as a former sultanate. The sultans of this region accumulated great wealth and prosperity from the land, trade, and slavery. The capital of the region became Al Fashir in 1790, when the royal court was established and cemented the city as the cultural capital of the region. Islam has long been the main religion in Darfur and the locals are known to be very devout Muslims. The region was so devout and prosperous that its last ruler, Sultan Ali Dinar, sent an annual caravan on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca containing a special gift. The caravan carried the kiswah, a large black fabric decorated in gold thread calligraphy that covers the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam.

Islam teaches believers to respect one’s guests, show good hospitality and aspire to maximize the comfort one can afford their guests. The Darfuri royal court extended this understanding of Islamic hospitality even further, as they had the means to do so. They began to explore and experiment with the culinary arts to maximise the hospitality they could bestow upon their guests. This period cultivated a profoundly innovative food culture headed by the Mayram, the sultan’s wives or sisters. A Mayram was a royal matriarch of the Darfur royal court often called upon by sultan to be confidants and aids in their political strategies. They were also in charge of the royal kitchen and responsible for providing decadent meals to their high ranking guests. Dishes were invented by the women of the royal court and gradually became part of the local cuisine which spread throughout Darfur. Young girls of the royal court were taught these culinary techniques from the ages of 11 or 12. Once they developed their culinary skills to a satisfactory level, over many years, they too could attain the title of Mayram.

These royal foods include the asida jeer, sorghum grain pounded and filtered in a large clay zheer of water into a fine white flour. The refined flour makes an ultra-white asida that’s far more unique than the original. White was and still is regarded as a symbol of purity and good health, and so this was made to establish good connections with guests.

The asida jeer can be served with a number of delicious mullahs. A mullah is a thick homogeneous stew or gravy made with meat powder, sharmout, caramelized onions, mixed spices, often (but not always) chopped tomatoes, and thickened using ground okra. Well-known mullahs from this region include the hibiscus mullah, in which hibiscus leaves are pounded, dried, and added to a tomato and ground meat stew. The stew is tangy from the hibiscus yet sweet from the caramelized onions. Baobab powder is used in another stew dish, as it also has a slightly tart taste which compliments the stew. Mullah kawal is a special regional stew that requires the leaves of a sicklepod plant to be pounded and fermented for weeks, then dried, and cooked into a stew. This stew has an offensive smell but tastes delicious, with many health benefits such as detoxification and overall disease prevention. 

The boneless chicken is another delicacy of the region. A whole chicken is carefully deboned and then sewn back up to keep its original shape. The meat is usually cooked to be tender, well-spiced and is very easy to eat without the bones.

For very special guests, Darfuris make a signature dish for a large dining group by stuffing a whole lamb with a whole chicken, using a vegetable rice mixture to fill the gaps. The interesting part is that chicken itself is also stuffed with boiled eggs as well as the vegetable rice. As the diners eat, they open up the lamb to discover the whole chicken, to eventually find the boiled eggs inside the chicken. This playful discovery of small objects hidden within certain foods is common in Darfur and the neighbouring Kordofan region. Some cooks will hide small rings, small figurines or other objects that won’t be damaged if placed inside a hot asida. When the asida cools and is served upside down, looking like a jelly dome, whoever finds this small object either pays a small donation to the cook or is bestowed with a blessing of good fortune or marriage. Western Sudanese regard food as more than just sustenance or something that brings people together. Food can be entertainment in its own right, broadening the horizon of how we experience dining and giving thanks.


This story has been contributed from The Sudanese Kitchen project, established by Omer Al-Tijani Mohamed. The Sudanese Kitchen provides information on Sudanese food and drink to the English-speaking world. This project specifically targets Sudanese youth, based in and outside of Sudan, who wish to incorporate traditional Sudanese cooking into their everyday lives, as well as non-Sudanese English-speaking foodies eager to learn about Sudan’s relatively undiscovered (on an international scale) cuisine. For more information on The Sudanese Kitchen visit

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