I’m in Cameroon for work and as my day job isn’t remotely related to food, my eating has been hit or miss or made entirely out of what I could eek together in between things. Starch and carbs have become my lifeline, as has the hotel bar’s ham pizza and chilled red wine. I’ve been hoarding bread and chowing down on yams and plantains like they were going out of style, which mind you isn’t such a bad situation. The bread in Cameroon is very good. I mean very, very good. The French influence is not lost here and the boulangerie is an important destination. I’ve had magical multigrain loaves and walnut filled loaves and big fluffy white slices. There was one loaf, faintly red in color and chock full of walnuts that I hope to eventually identify and replicate. I have no idea what made it red, but it was wonderful.
I had a few opportunities to try authentic Cameroonian food. The so very green njamajama is delicious. There is also a strange, but tasty (once you accept that’s its unlike anything you’ve ever had before) vegetable called a prune that is purple and oblong and when eaten warm tastes something like an artichoke/olive/avocado. One night, we went out and devoured a table of whole cod and mackerel and chicken with our hands and an ample supply of honestly hot sauce. We selected the fish from a basket ourselves as we entered the restaurant. The table chock full of the shiny bones we left behind looked like the aftermath of the feast of a wake of hungry vultures, but we were wonderfully full and happy as we pushed our chairs back.
There was a simple winner this week among all my-survivalist-I-don’t-have-much-time-please-make-my-stomach-stop-growling meals–a “hamburger” and an African Guinness. The seemingly unsavory photo above was taken before the electricity went out. It hadn’t come back on by the time we left the next day either. But no worries, I spent the night in a room so dark I couldn’t even see my own hand in front of my face and a world so quiet that I passed the leftover jetlag hours happily lying horizontal while attempting to identify all the magical noises of the night–peepers and dogs and chickens oh my.
I bought the “hamburger” at a bakery in the city of Bamenda in route to our hotel in the small town of Ndop. The north west of Cameroon is beautiful and cool. Great hills rise and seem to bloom at spontaneous intervals across the landscape and the streets are lined with great big mango trees, dense banana groves and deep red soil. The bakery in Bamenda smelled warm and sweet from baking and was full of donuts and sandwiches and great big loaves of homemade bread. The Cameroonian we were with said the hamburger was good. I like hamburgers and I was curious what was inside the little sandwich ball so tightly wrapped in plastic and decided hamburger it would be for dinner.
Later, I unwrapped my hamburger outside in the cool evening air of Ndop with a laugh. It was certainly a hamburger, or rather a ham burger aka a ham sandwich. Inside the wonderfully fresh baked ball of bread was a teensy, tiny rectangular piece of ham, some spice, something like mayo and an awfully bright slice of red tomato and a leaf of lettuce. I only had two disappointments with my ham burger: 1) that I was too hungry and it was too dark to fully identify what I was eating and 2) that I hadn’t gotten three.
African Guinness gets it’s own shout out. Oh me oh my oh. Guinness in Africa or the Foreign Extra is a very different beast than the Guinness found in the States. It’s stronger. It’s more bitter. As far as I can tell, it’s just more magical. When you are next in Africa, you best try to taste a Foreign Extra Guinness.
Tonight I’m bound for Paris and big smiles abound. I was in Cameroon for work, but I’ll be in Paris for fun and food (and butter) and to see my boyfriend. I can’t wait.
Happy International Women’s Day from Yaoundé!