I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this! My gourmand
Technically, I should split this category into two: What do Cameroonians eat? … and then, what do I eat in
Cameroonians: Blobs really do seem to be a recurring theme in Cameroonian cuisine, mostly consumed in the form of couscous. That means take any grain, mash it up, then cook with water. Corn for example. The other day I heard a repetitive thunking sound outside my window. I looked outside and I saw my neighbors, three women, gathered around a huge version of a mortar. Each woman was holding what looked like an oversized pestle. The women were going around the circle, taking turns thrusting the giant pestles into the container to mash the corn. I actually have a wall hanging that shows this exact scene, but I had never seen it before myself! Sorry I didn’t get the real-life version, but here is the wall hanging, which will have to suffice for now.
Once your grain of choice is mashed it’s cooked with water and molded into the blobs. That’s couscous! So corn couscous = grits. I’ve eaten couscous of rice, millet, and manioc, a fabulously flavorless root vegetable, which also has the disgusting quality of being “gluant.” The best way to translate that is—rubber cement. I haven’t met an American yet who likes it. One of my sisters (although unnamed, Family, I think you can guess which one!) likes to eat with her hands. Well she will love it in
There are a variety of sauces to go with those couscous-es. Think mix and match! Tomato-y meat sauces, tasty green sauces made with leaves I don’t recognize, delicious spicy peanut sauces. My neighbors spend huge amounts of time plucking the leaves off of plants, which they then dry in the sun to form the base of the sauce. For a protein-plus variation, throw in a few beans with your leaves. But at all costs avoid gumbo sauce. Gumbo is Cameroonian French for okra, not to be confused with the delicious brown
Okra drying in the sun for gumbo sauce. Steer clear.
Red millet drying against my house. They also make a local beer out of millet, called bilbil. Not bad.
Beans and beignets are the breakfast of local champions. Just on my way in to work, there are about five different women selling B&B on the side of the road—amazing motivation to get out of bed! Beef, broth, and beignets are also a basic breakfast. In the category of “things you never knew you could put in your omelet,” … add spaghetti. Spaghetti omelets seem to be all over the country. I was so skeptical at first but they are incredibly satisfying!!
Here's a typical kitchen in my area: source of all the above described goodness. Outdoors, with a traditional three-stone fire. The pot sits on stones and wood burns underneath. (This is my neighbors' place, with whom I share my compound.)
That's corn dangling in front of the door, hanging out to dry.
A few other ‘Roonian basics: since the Fulani people are herders, we’ve got cows! The beef here is good! Peanuts abound. I can get fresh nuts, fresh-smooshed peanut butter sold in handy one-serving plastic sacks, or another concoction that is the Cameroonian version of a Power Bar. It’s a dried up, pencil-shaped stick made of peanut paste. It feels like sheer protein and costs next to nothing. Lastly, only in Mokolo it seems, we have tofu! I finally found the non-berry-blob version of it. It’s called awaara, and I think I am going to eat it for lunch every day for the next two years.
Lastly, somehow in spite of the abundance of cows, the closest thing we have here to cheese is called the “La Vache qui Rit.” The Laughing Cow. Just why is she laughing?! It’s some semblance of dairy, wrapped in aluminum packets, with a cartoon girly cow on the front of the package. That stuff has scared me ever since I first saw it for sale on the sidewalks of
And then, there is what I eat, your typical Peace Corps Volunteer. All that corn mashing and pounding? No thank you, I just make popcorn, with salt and sugar on it. That’s a trick I learned while in training, and who knew how amazing it is! Wood burning stoves? I’m lucky to have gas and a burner. I’m getting good at making breads: banana, peanut butter, rosemary, sweet potato. Recently, I delved into soups: tomato, potato, eggplant. Why anyone would eat hot soup in the middle of the desert is beyond me. I do it anyway. It’s true that every thing takes longer to prepare here—there are no shortcuts, but I get by just fine. So, now you have the added bonus of knowing you won’t starve if you come to visit me! And to those of you with a culinary inclination, feel free to send any good and simple recipes my way!