Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Food for thought... and for eating.

“Mosquitoes remind us that we are not as high up on the food chain as we think” said Tom Wilson.

Clearly good food equates to good morale as well as good health as summed up nicely by Hippocrates and Napoleon who said respectively, "Let your food be your medicine" and “An army marches on its stomach”. Luckily we do more than OK out here with good tucker.

Following on from yesterday regarding plastic bowls full of produce balanced gracefully on heads, the local shop comes to us each Tuesday and Saturday when the locals come to the gate with bananas, local spinach (looks like basil but cooks like spinach), chickens, eggs, etc plus a few plants that I still haven’t identified but have enjoyed eating. Our cooks pretty much pick out what they want for the camp but we surprised them when Pete and I went out and bought some corn. Apparently corn isn’t seen as mzungu food. The locals eat corn although mostly dried and ground up as maize flour. They make a kind of polenta meal or porridge out of it called ugali. ‘Ugali & beans’ or ‘rice & beans’ is pretty much the staple diet and let me just say that ugali is just what you’re after if you like your food starchy and uncontaminated by flavour. The other main staple here is Cassava, a starchy carbohydrate laden root vegetable bereft of protein, nutrients or flavour. Just to cap it off, they come pre-packaged with generous amounts of cyanide (and we though flavour enhancers 220 & xyz were bad for us…) which usually takes a few hours of preparation to leach out before you can eat it. Is it just me who wonders who the heck decided that Cassava was OK to eat if you leached it in a river for 5 hours? Bonus points to that man/woman for courage, initiative and above being the first to survive eating it. Gives you some idea though of the limited range of food options out here doesn’t it?

We have 2 local cooks here and although they find it easy to cook for the local guys they still seem to be learning about cooking for mzungus. They are getting he hang of it but so far as we can tell, they are politely but decidedly bemused by our diets. Usually the meals are pretty darn good and they really do try to please but some odd combinations turn up from time to time. Bangers and peas or fish with cabbage being some examples. You just get used to it and remember TIA (this is Africa). We’ve also had a couple of days where all 3 meals were bereft of fruit and veggies yet other days when veggies and fruit are overflowing. This is despite having abundant fruit and veg sitting on the flymesh pantry shelves. It’s like they just forget sometimes. We asked them for bacon and eggs for breakfast the following day to which they nodded and agreed. Cooked to perfection and immaculately presented the following morning we received… chapatti with 2 boiled eggs each. LOL AWA (Africa Wins Again). Have you ever dined at Fawlty Towers? If so, you’d probably adapt well to the dining experience out here. Perhaps the strangest thing though that they’ve prepared is still the meat and salad sandwiches - complete with strawberry jam… Clearly the use of strawberry jam is a black art in Tanzania. I can’t wait for them to top that combination but I’m pretty sure that they will eventually LOL. In any case, in a week or so, the camp shuts down and the cooks go home so I’ll be cooking for myself and much though it is nice to have meals cooked, I think I’ll probably be happier with my own menus.

Out behind the compound and down by the creek are the remains of a veggie patch that the former security captain started as a business on the side. He’s long gone (for having tooooo many businesses on the side and too few hours of security management) but his veggie patch is surprisingly still doing OK. Seems like the local Baboon colony and other wildlife don’t much care for tomatoes or carrots. Great news for me. They are still thriving albeit neglected so I might even tidy that up a bit to supplement the fresh veggie offerings at the gate. Either way, the freezer is full of beef and the sea container has enough condiments, chilli sauce, rice and beans to see us through a long wet.

PS. Despite my opening quote, I’m happy to report that there are no mosquitoes out here. Admittedly there was one about 2 weeks ago but she seems to have moved on. Sad to report though that there are no lions either since decades of refugees flooding through the area ate whatever they could to survive. That does mean however that (at least for the moment) we are still top of the food chain which is probably my preferred place on the tree.

PPS. In case you're curious about what I might cook up during the wet, my favourite meal isn’t even a food... Mark Twain said it best: “Sacred cows make the best hamburger". Makes a great meal for a writer :-)

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