Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Food 3

A few people have asked about what we are eating here in Cameroon. I was curious how we would fare gastronomically as well since eating is a big hobby of mine, I do it minimally three times a day. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Though beyond that, these last six years,  I have been teaching myself to become a better cook and have become something that those in Los Alamos are accustomed to calling a "food nerd." That is, a person who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about, talking about, reading about, preparing and eating...food.

I came with the goal in mind that instead of adapting to eating here by relying on expensive imported goods I wanted to rise to the challenge of primarily using local foods, though not confining myself to preparing them in the local style. This having no idea what I would find here! I was delighted though the first time I explored the market to find all sorts of treasures and even some comfort foods from home!

Here is a list of some standard pantry staples:  Cassava, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, "irish" potatoes, corn, rice, pasta.

Beans: back, red, soy, black eyed peas, and something that looks like a garbanzo bean but is more translucent-- the call it nganser if someone wants to Google that for me and leave it in the comments!

Eggs, beef, pork, poultry, goat, and mutton are to be had but are expensive. Actually, beans are even pretty expensive when compared to starches. Fish, dried and fresh, are abundant.

The primary oils are ground nut and red palm. The latter I believe is an excellent source of fat-soluble nutrients and is used liberally here.

Other interesting items include: ground nuts (in abundance and usually consumed boiled rather than roasted), kola nuts, pumpkin seeds, salt and pepper and Jamaica hibiscus blossoms! I was so happy to find this and that a friend had given me a heads up to look for it.

Produce and fruit is abundant, though interestingly Cameroonians only use very small amounts of vegetables in their cooking-- I think as a matter of frugality. This is with the exception of greens-based dishes which are all veg (and oil).  Curiously, there is no Lamnso' word or concept equivalent to "vegetable."

They also have their own variation of mirepoix which they call "green spice." it is: green onion, celery, curly parsley, and basil. This is the main form of seasoning.

I have not been disappointed in material as you can see! We have been eating very well and have been learning to like a few Cameroonian preparations too. I do find that Cameroon food can be a little flat, or monotone, but some of it is enjoyable as a sort of comfort food.  One brilliant insight has been to add minced ginger to my beans! I mean seriously, why have I never thought of that?! I also didn't bring many cookbooks with me, which has challenged me to rely more on my own instinct and knowledge than I usually do (I have a terrible memory and am very recipe dependent).

So far it's been great and I've enjoyed being more creative with the options I have before me! For example, I was able to buy a pound of basil (which would have cost 8 to 15 dollars in the states, here cost 1 dollar!) and make pesto. Of course subbing toasted pumpkin seeds for pine nuts and lemon juice for parmesan. It was delightful! Though the woman selling me was confused why I would ever want so much basil without the rest of the green spices!

I've also rediscovered some recipes from home that are particularly well suited to here. Here is one you can try if you want to have a taste of our life here:

Lemon and Peanut Coated Green Beans

2 tbsp peanut oil
2 tbsp minced ginger
zest from one lemon
1 tbsp minced garlic
1-1.5 cups coarsely ground peanuts
1/4 tsp salt
1 lb green beans
juice from lemon

Heat 1 tbsp oil in large skillet over med heat, add ginger and saute for a few minutes until aromatic; add peanuts, garlic, zest and lower heat to med low. Cook peanut mixture, stirring frequently for 10 minutes until peanuts are lightly toasted. Add salt if peanuts are not salted. Remove mixture to plate and wipe skillet. Add remaining oil and turn heat up to med high, add green beans and sauté until crisp-tender. Add peanut mixture back in with the lemon juice and toss to coat the green beans. Serve immediately.

The confession:  Believe me though, there are things I miss: dairy! bacon! cinnamon!

I caved and bought an expensive jar of cinnamon, because, well, just because! Eric and I, when giving way to cravings, have twice made ourselves chocolate pudding cake (an excellent, easy, frugal way to get a chocolate hit). And once snicker doodles which our neighbors were happy to benefit from.



  1. Would you believe the only google hits for nganser seem to be for people whose last name is ganser, first initial "n"; a mountain in Indonesia named "Golo Nganser", and the twitter handle for someone obsessed with Justin Bieber. But nothing about beans! Sorry!

  2. I tried Googling "translucent garbanzo beans" but alas, only recipes talking about how to cook onions with your garbanzo beans until they become translucent.

    Don't you have yogurt there at least?

  3. I love the ginger beans idea! Might be borrowing that...