Thursday, May 21, 2009
When I'm on a business trip I mostly function on restaurant food. That might seem appealing, but you have to take into account that a) good restaurants are hard to find in Congo in general and even more so in the interior of the country and b) I work for a humanitarian organisation, so think more in terms of 'local grub' than 'exquisite local cuisine'.
I was in Mbandaka for four days, a city situated on a place where the mighty Congo river meets a number of tributaries. It's a region known for it's fresh water fish, and the first evening we had a great meal of grilled fish, poached fish and fish steamed in banana leaves (Liboke). It all tasted wonderfully and I tasted plenty of it. The next day for lunch we got the same meal. I still thought it was great, and wolfed it down like a crocodile that had been on a vegetarian diet for six months. That evening, it was the same menu, as was it for the remainder of the four days we were there. The same three fish dishes every lunch and every diner. The last days, we were offered (canned) sardines for breakfast. I drew the line there.
I ate in various local restaurants during the rest of my visit, eating various meats and avoiding the fish even when it came highly recommended. And after ten days or so, I really start to dream about home made food.
So an invitation from local friends to dine at there place is a very welcome opportunity away from the steak-with-fries or grilled chicken. And what a feast it was! There were at least five different dishes, with chicken, steak, goat, fish, rice, pasta, fries and of course 'la boule nationale': maniok. There were also different kinds of local vegetables that I recognise, but I keep forgetting there names. So I scooped up a bit from every plate and went for the rice, because maniok is really not my thing. And I put plenty of the sauce that accompanied the chicken on my rice.
Nobody told me that it was pili-pili sauce. They didn't have to, because one mouthful of rice was enough to show me the error of my ways.
Temperatures suddenly rose from a balmy 35°C to somewhere between 1500°C-3000°C. My fork melted in my mouth. My seat burst into flame.
I bravely continued conversation while doing my best to reduce the mountain of rice on my plate to proportions that would show that I appreciated the food very much – not implying that I didn't finish half of my plate because it was foul. And it was great food... just a tad volcanic. In fact, I bet you could use that sauce to convince volcanoes that it is not a good idea to erupt because it's too hot outside.
Luckily, there was plenty of beer to cool down the furnace in my stomach. By the time the evening was coming to a close, I'd finally stopped sweating and the colour of my face returned from bright signal orange to deep red with hints of actual flesh colour.
I might add that the fun doesn't stop there with pili-pili sauce, because the next day my bottom experienced what my tongue felt the day before. But I won't disclose any more details on this particular experience...