When you are deciding what you want for dinner tonight, think of me. Because I am thinking of some of the same things as you—salad, tacos, indian, grilled cheese and soup, pizza, etc. The problem is, I am only thinking about them. My food reality is:
Vegetables: tomatoes, okra, onions, two types of leafy green, hot peppers, tiny bitter eggplants (when lucky)
Fruits: bananas, oranges, limes. Seasonally; papaya, mango, cashew fruit
Starches: SO MANY CHOICES!! rice, spaghetti, congealed grits (called pate), pounded tubers, boiled tubers, fried tubers, fried dough, millet porridge, corn porridge, oatmeal, sweet bread (like lower-quality Hawaiian rolls,) baguettes, fried plantains, plantain chips, potatoes, popcorn, etc.
Proteins: beans, eggs, laughing cow cheese spreadable triangles, wagashi (a non-melting cheese I can get when lucky,) peanuts and peanut butter, something similar to pumpkin seeds, fried squares of tofu. I could also buy dried fish that smells like death in the market and meat that is probably but not definitely safe to eat in restaurants/roadside stands.
Cold things: soft drinks, beer, frozen plastic bags of chocolate or vanilla milk, hibiscus iced tea or limeade in recycled bottles
Well, there you have it. Those are my ingredients. I can buy lots of other things when in Cotonou or Nattitingou, two bigger cities, but those are 6 hours or so away from me. I also don’t have a refrigerator. Even if I bought one, I couldn’t keep it running on the electrical capacity of my house which sometimes has a hard time with two high efficiency light bulbs depending on the time of day and how many of my neighbors have their TVs on. That means if I buy any vegetables I have to use them within a day for best results (especially the leafy greens which actually last about 2 hours in the heat before they wilt.) I miss lettuce.
But! Here are some things I have learned:
If you do not cut okra up and sauté it whole it is not slimy and actually quite delicious. If you take the seeds that they sell here to grind up and add to sauce and instead toast them in oil, they become exactly like the green inside part of pumpkin seeds. If you crumble up non-melting cheese and add it to sautéed garlic, onions, tomatoes, leafy greens, and curry powder it is really good. If you make spaghetti with the same vegetables, add a scoop of peanut butter, some lime juice and salt, you’ve basically got pad thai! (That is a lie. It is nothing close to pad thai. But it is good.)
My neighbors think I am crazy for cooking the things that I do because they are not in the normal realm of Beninese cuisine. Example of something my neighbors say to me when asked if they would like to try aforementioned pad thai dish: “You are eating spaghetti with greens in it?! Are you crazy?! Don’t you know you only eat greens with congealed grits? Don’t you know you only eat peanut sauce with pounded tubers?! You put lime in your peanut sauce?! NO I WOULD NOT LIKE TO TRY TO SEE IF I LIKE IT I ALREADY KNOW THAT IT WILL BE GROSS THANK YOU!” When asked if they would like to try the toasted seeds they said “I think that will probably give me diarrhea, so no.”
NOTE: Sorry for the big break between posts. I was sick again and was pretty much exclusively laying in my bed watching episodes of Friends, but am now back to good health/participating in daily life/not weirdly reliving the ‘90s through a tv show. I’m working on some posts about my work here and what I do day-to-day and I’ll try to finish them soon!