A week of country chop
Gearing me up for the experience, I ate rice and fish in sauce at Joe's house (one of the indigenous translators) for lunch on Sunday and partook of a sumptuous spread at Chief Esoh's house for supper that evening, including a small piece of "bushmeat" which apparently was porcupine. I'm neither much of a connoisseur nor much of a fan of meat in general, so as far as I'm concerned, one fatty chunk of meat is the same as the next.
Monday -- Pepe soup
The national dish of Cameroon, or at least, of this region. Pepe is the local hot pepper used to spice everything. It was a thickish soup, a murky greyish colour, made with bushmeat, egusi and plenty of oil. Because the food came late and I had to get back to school, I ate bread for lunch then got to try but a few spoonfuls of the soup with half a boiled plantain. Initial impression: spicy, yes, but bearable..until I polished off the last of it and put down my spoon. Suddenly, like kroepoek expanding when it hits the hot oil, the heat exploded in my mouth. I ran to get some water and wolfed down a plain old biscuit to get the burning to abate.
Tuesday -- Water fufu and eru
Waterfufu is what they call cassava fufu here. They form it into balls like big, long yellow Idaho potatoes. Eru is greens prepared with lots of oil, lots of pepe and a bit of fish thrown in. I avoided the fish. Other than the fact it was woodier than I expected, the eru was fine, but maybe because I was distracted by the fufu. It's just not a happy texture. Add to that there's not much taste and you've got a food I'm not going to get very excited about.
You pinch off some fufu from the ball, work it with your fingers a bit, then use it to scoop up some eru. Rachel, 10, and I split a ball between us and still all the translators were finished their fufu before we'd gotten halfway through our half-portions. I kept pinching off pieces and choking it back but the ball of fufu never got smaller. I finally despaired of the endeavour and, with Lisa's permission, slunk off to the kitchen with Rachel to have a piece of bread and cheese to round out my lunch.
Wednesday -- Rice and spicy fish sauce
Ah, rice I can handle. The spicy fish sauce was plenty spicy but palatable, though it made my nose run and caused my mouth to burn. Not as bad as the pepe soup, though. I must admit I avoided actually eating any fish with my sauce..I didn't want to rob others of pleasure by eating a piece of fish I was sure not to enjoy! This sauce, like the pepe soup, contained a fair amount of egusi (spicy, roasted, crushed seeds from a gourd), making it thick and, well, spicy.
Thursday -- Rice and red sauce with beef
The non-egusi version of spicy sauce, made with tomato paste and featuring--like most Cameroonian food--palm oil. About an inch of the heavy red oil had separated to the top of the container and had to be mixed back in with every serving. The beef was a bit on the stringy side, but I'm growing accustomed to meat that is not as processed as what you get at home.
Friday -- Water fufu and eru, again
Oh man. It was the same water fufu as last time so it'd become more potent; a little more vinagery, a little more fermented. I took a third of a ball this time, then slunk off to the kitchen again for a small sandwich to supplement my lunch.
Saturday -- Rice and red sauce with fish
Dan, always looking out for my best interests, dished out my plate, making sure to include a large section of the tail. Thanks, Dan. Actually, it wasn't bad at all. My bias against fish mostly has to do with fear of bones, but eaten slowly and carefully enough, the few bones I found weren't a large concern. It's advisable to eat slowly anyway as the low grade rice may contain small stones. On one occasion, I found a small piece of glass in my mouthful. Mike cracked a tooth on something hard earlier this week, so I think we're all gingerly chewing our portions.
While I never refused to eat anything, I didn't exactly distinguish myself for adventurous or non-picky eating habits. I hate to admit that outside of fruit (and peanuts!) I haven't found any Cameroonian food I'd get excited about yet, and there hasn't even been much of that yet. But I've still got another 8 months, so who knows how my tastes may evolve.