Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Food Stuff

The food situation in Mbandaka has been challenging. Surely it could be worse, but considering the amazing potential to grow just about anything, its been disappointing ... and expensive! 

Before I arrived on the equator I had this preconceived notion that we would have ample amounts of fruits and vegetables. Most likely varieties I didn't know, but certainly plenty of them. Well, I was proven wrong ones again. My search for fruits has turned into the search for the holy grail. It almost seems like somebody is trying to keep you from it. For example: Mangos. the last weeks has been mango season and the fruits tree next door almost collapsed  under the amount of fruit on in (ok, slight exaggeration). Anyhow, mangos were not to be found on any of Mbandaka's markets. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. Really none. The only fruit you will find regularly is banana and pineapple - at least so far. BUT... not like in Europe. Not perfect without brown spots and without dents. Most of the fruit here is slightly old (time it takes to get to the market), poorly picked (often also seemingly picked up from the floor), pocked with holes (if they have to get it down) or generally not really great tasting, potentially because varieties have not been selected at any time. Realization of the day: not everything nature produces is amazing - and I am spoiled. Yes, I know I should be happy that I have food at all. And I am .

So anyhow, underneath the picture of our neighbors mangos that I ended up getting by simply giving $2 to our security guard that went to ask them to get me 5 of them....the pic also has some bananas, and peanuts that you also get everywhere, as well as the peanut butter our cook made for us (out of those exact peanuts, with a machine she has at home :)

As mentioned we do not have "Supermarkets" here. But we do have a few little Indian stores that I am most grateful for. Even though the prices are of course tremendous, as importing is such an hassle. Underneath a few of my stables: Nestle Nido Milk powder ($20 for the can btw), the Potato chips and Quakers white oats. Another favorite is the French juice in a Tetra Pack (around $7). The also sell eggs $0.60 per piece, and Samosas!! (my favorite snack in town)

Meat is loved by the Congolese, yet rare. We have no cows, chicken, goat, pig, sheep or other animal production in town. Bush meat the largest offer in the markets - apes, crocodiles, bats, caterpillars, turtle in the past apparently also hippopotamus, elephant, antelope, okapi... even bonobo. Only that they have  been eating so much of them that they have largely disappeared. The Russians apparently fly in the goats and sheep regularly though, so the meat eaters to get more "normal" protein (as a vegetarian this is a small concern of mine, but our dog and cat do enjoy animal stuff...). The alternative is fish. Which makes a lot of sense being right next to the Congo River as well as the Rookie river. The most common fish is a black, snakish looking variety ... and quite tasty when grilled.

The staple foods - which you always get in small, thin plastic bags - are smoked fish (top), sugar (imported from India or Brazil, but much loved), Fufu powder and beans (from left to right), and rice (bottom). The Fufu powder is a favorite - the powder of the Manioc root, which is used to also make Chikwon - the fermented Manioc bread the locals love (and who's smell makes me gag). The Manioc leaves are also very popular, usually made into a "ponde", a kind of leave spinach looking thing (and much more health than the root).

Here Mama Bebe Adrian in our kitchen - getting ready to prepare the fish - on our charcoal stove.

Other vegetables are hard to find. The cherry tomatoes are sold for $0.50 for 4 of them - with usually at least one of them rotten. Sometimes there is Okra and you do get other green leaves that can be prepared similarly to spinach. Our gardner Pascal has a little farm (the only one I know of around Mbanaka) where he produces together with Robin other veggies for the one restaurant in town. Belle Vue - with a beautiful view over the Congo River, but the price of a bowl of soup is $9!
From Pascal we can also buy aubergine, basil, cucumber and carrots. Once we tell him, we actually get them delivered to our home... but I still miss supermarkets - especially with their selection of chocolate : ) For the veggie issue we have planted all kinds of seeds in our garden... my mine occupation the last weeks, as well as a source of tremendous joy!

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