Sunday, April 17, 2011

Food here

Eating here
People have asked me what I find to eat here. Actually about half my meals are made from things I buy at the marché or boutique (a tiny store with a few basic supplies). My town has a marché every three days. At the marché I can find peanut butter, and, depending on the season, fresh fruit and vegetables. At the moment there are lots of tomatoes and onions, and also a bit of okra, carrots, eggplant, cucumbers and lettuce, but things in the latter group may or may not be available on any given day. At one point I could get what they call sweet potatoes. They taste just about like American potatoes. The flesh is white, but a bit fibrous. You buy them already cooked and people eat them as a snack. I could make hash browns and mashed potatoes with them. I have not seen any for the last couple of months. There were bananas but they have not been available for quite a while. The only fruit currently available are mangoes. Apparently there are several types of mangoes. The ones in season now are small, about the size of your fist. They start out green on the tree, but turn yellow and are soft when they are ripe. You squish then in their skins, cut off an end, and suck out the juice. Actually, I like to cut them open, squeeze the pulp and juice into a bowl, and eat it like apple sauce. It is really sweet and I am beginning to like the taste.

Another thing I have learned is that, if I get to the guy cooking up goat meat and other animal parts on his grill early enough, I can buy a raw piece of goat leg without the other stuff. I have to cut the meat away from all the ligaments and fat, but when I do that, it is just plain meat and makes a good meal. I sometimes fry up little pieces and put them in a sandwich of local bread. What I usually do is fry up some onions with the meat, and then add water and rice with some American herbs and let it cook until the rice is soft. On market days there is a guy who cooks up a pig, if he can find someone willing to sell him one. I can buy a small sack of just plain pork (no organs, intestines full of blood, or brains) and use that in sandwiches or with couscous or rice.

Here are a couple of pictures of my kitchen. First you will notice this used to be a house with running water, but years ago all the plumbing was ripped out. I have a sink, but the water would drain onto the floor if I did not put a bowl under there to catch it. The water for washing dishes and cooking is in the two buckets, one in the sink and one on the floor. I add a capful of bleach to each bucket to kill off any bugs that have escaped the local water treatment efforts. The cloth over each bucket is to keep out the dust.

The stove is a three burner gas stove that is hooked to that blue gas tank under the shelf. You see my two favorite pans, a no-stick frying pan from the US and my one pan with a handle. Next to the stove is the Burkina Faso Peace Corps Cookbook, called “Where There Is No Microwave,” full of helpful hints from past volunteers.

The next picture shows the rest of the kitchen. Except for some herbs and spices, everything was bought here. There is a big can of powdered milk, iodized salt (that you have to search for), a kind of oleo that stays solid at 100 degrees (called Blue Band), oil, and vinegar. On the bottom shelves are the rest of the nested set of pans, none with handles, and some miscellaneous cooking things.

There are a number of folks who bake “local bread” in what you might call a stone oven, although these are built of the mud bricks you use to build house. I never am sure who will be baking on any given day, but there are a couple of places that usually have bread. Mostly they bake it in these small, long skinny loaves that are just about the right size for one sandwich, but a bit hard to stuff. Here is a picture of a loaf on my small cutting board with a mug, match box, and kitchen tools to show the size.

In addition to the meat sandwiches I have mentioned above I like omelet sandwiches when I can get eggs. At the moment eggs are not available. When there is not much food, the chickens and guinea hens stop laying eggs. Another reminder of home is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The local peanut butter is just plain ground up peanuts. I like to add a bit of salt before I use it for sandwiches. The jelly is something I get when I am in Ouagadougou. There are a couple of stores that cater to Europeans and American and you may be able to find all sorts of French food items there. You never know what they will have in stock, so you can’t go with your heart set on a particular item or you may be disappointed.

Freeze dried food
When I was sick and losing weight last fall the doctor suggested I try to find ways to eat food I am accustomed to. One of the things Janet and family brought to me in their three suitcases full of goodies were the freeze dried back packer’s meals. They are pretty expensive, I guess, but good for a change of pace. Another thing my daughters have sent in care package boxes is something I never even knew existed in the states, past sides. They are some kind of pasta with sauce ingredients all together in a packet. You just add the packet to a couple of cups of water (with powdered milk) and you have a really American tasting meal (actually two meals).

There is not much here in the village in the way of sweets. Desert after a meal is not a concept. There are hard candies, but that is about it for sweets. In my food supply boxes from home I get my favorite kind of sweet and salty granola nut bars. I have to ration them so as not to eat the whole box at once.

Soft drinks
Coke is here! (Pepsi is not.) While I can by Coke, Fanta, or Sprite with no problem, warm soft drinks are not too refreshing. I can get a cool (not cold) half liter one for about a dollar, but what I drink most is Kool-Aid pink lemonade (again from home). I can buy sugar here and mix up a half a package at a time in the Nalgene bottle you see below, next to my canari (desert cooler).

The canari is a clay pot sitting in a pan of sand. You put water in the pot and it seeps out through the clay. As it evaporates the water in the pot gets cooler than the outside air. It can be as much as 30 degrees cooler than the outside air. A drink that is 70 degrees tastes pretty good when the room temperature is 100!

Next to the canari is they kind of pot the Burkinabè use for cooking all their food. I will be using it to make a Dutch Oven that is explained in “where There Is No Microwave.” I have yet to try it out, but I will tell you about it when I do.

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