OK, on to central Africa--Cameroon and Gabon! Andy and I ate in a restaurant on our first night in Cameroon, but then never again, and we were there for two weeks. There was just all this tasty street food to be had, and for so darn cheap, too!
All over Cameroon, you see these little purple fruits for sale (and when you're in rainforesty areas, you see them growing on the trees). Depending on who you talk to, they may be called African pears or plums. However, they have the consistency of an avocado and the taste of an olive, and have to be grilled before eating. (I liked them, Andy did not.) Thanks to Melissa and Jessica, the PCVs we met in Mamfe, for clueing us in about them.
OK, this is the magical trifecta of Cameroonian street food that was our dinner almost every night. Clockwise from the top, you have beignets (sweetish fried dough, 5 cents US per ball); sweet porridge (not sure what it's made of, probably a grain, definitely sugar, and maybe there's some juice or milk in it?) for 10 cents a bowl; and nicely spiced beans for 20 cents a bowl. So you see in front of you a delicious three-course, vegetarian meal for 50 cents. Order, eat, repeat.
This meal was often supplemented with Cameroonian suya, which is a bit different from the Nigerian version. In Cameroon, big hunks of fatty, pastrami-like beef are slow-cooked, then the guy slices it up for you. You always get a free sample before you decide to buy. (The best suya vendor in the country is in Bamenda, opposite Dreamland Restaurant, in case you are heading that way.) The amount you see here costs about $1.
Continuing our Ph.D. studies in fried-ball identification, Andy and I identify these balls as a cornmeal and banana mixture. Yum.
We also found real live French fries on the street in Bamenda. You don't often see fried potatoes, more often plantains, yucca, or beignets, so these were a treat.
Rats, I don't remember the name of this Cameroonian dish, but it's made of a spinach-like green leaf, some smoked fish, and a lot of palm oil. Served with a big long piece of fufu (grab piece with hand, roll into ball, dip in veggie goop, eat). I think that 14-year-old Tara, who hated spinach, fish, and getting her hands greasy, would be really proud of 30-year-old Tara, who not only ate this whole thing, but enjoyed it! Another reason to like Cameroon--they make yogurt. My favorite of the industrial variety was this little cup, though I liked the apricot better than the fruit cocktail flavor.
A popular side dish in Cameroon is the baton, or stick, of steamed manioc in a banana leaf. Not much taste, but it sure is long. 10 cents.
We discovered these yummy cardamom sandwich cookies from India in a shop in Limbe. We look forward to eating more of them in India.
Ahhh, the Limbe fish grills. They've got the catch of the day all out on tables, you go point to what you want,and they bring it to you. Thanks to Andrea, another PCV in Cameroon, I knew to look out for the calamari on a stick (right), and it was out-of-this-world amazing. I had to come back the next night for three more. The grilled plantain was also incredible, and the giant prawn that I mistook for a lobster because I am dumb about fish was not bad, either.
Beers in Africa only seem to come in giant size, which is about three times the ideal Tara-size, but somehow I manage.
Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, is filled with great patisseries. Our favorites were Patisserie Selecte and Calafata's, and we visited both daily. Here is Andy enjoying a "beignet Americain" (what exactly makes it American we're not sure, but it was filled with jam and tasty) at Selecte.
A popular bus snack--raw coconut. A little monotonous after a few bites, but filling.
Beans and beignets from my favorite street vendor in Yaounde. She made mini-beignets that cost 2 cents apiece, and you had your choice of wheat-flour or corn-flour/banana. Andy and I usually got a combo of five of each type to supplement our beans.
Backstory: Almost a year ago, in French Guyana, we stayed with some terrific Italians, Manuela and Max. When they brought out glasses of water, they also brought a bottle of Italian mint syrup. This was a revelation to Andy, who immediately fell in love with the minty water. Since then, we have seen this mint syrup for sale in so many countries, and it is usually not even expensive, but it comes in a giant glass bottle, so we've never bought any while traveling.
Suddenly, in a supermarket in Yaounde of all places, Andy comes across a small, plastic bottle of mint syrup for $1.50. He was so excited to finally possess the syrup of his dreams!
We barely made it out to the parking lot before he had to mint up one of his Nalgenes.
My prefered beverage in Yaounde was yogurt on the street. Guys with pushcarts that store large bottles of fresh vanilla yogurt pour you a little cup for 2o cents.
Here's one such cart. I call it the MYU (mobile yogurt unit).
Snack time: A sachet of drinkable yogurt for me and a cheap knockoff Bounty bar for Andy from a gas station in Yaounde.
At another gas station, this time in the beach town of Kribi, we tried a Cameroon-made fruity soy drink (it was OK) and were really excited to find strawberry tortinha cookies all the way from Brazil! No idea how they ended up there, but we loved them in Brazil and they were cheap, so we loaded up.
The other cookies we bought in Kribi were chocolate sandwich cookies from Tunisia that had these happy faces on them. How could eating one not make you happy?
On to Gabon! Gabon has an expensive reputation, so we didn't know if we'd be able to find cheap street food there, but we didn't have all that much trouble. For our first dinner in the country, in Oyem not far from the border, we got suya and delicious fried plantains for about $1.50. We also learned that in Gabon, people like to slather mayonnaise on everything.
In Lope, the small Gabonese village near a national park where we stayed for a few days, we had to break our no-restaurant streak because there just wasn't street food (maybe since there are no real streets?). Here's the chicken in "local chocolate sauce" that didn't really taste like chocolate and steamed plantains we found at a little restaurant.
I had a beer in Lope and learned that Gabonese Regab comes in bottles just as giant as Cameroonian Castel! I swear these are the only two beers I had in three weeks...
These little wild guavas grow in Lope National Park. Elephants like to eat them, but they taste good to people, too! Andy and I decided that since we didn't see as many elephants as we'd hoped that we would steal all their food.
D'jino is a popular brand of soda in Cameroon and Gabon. Their most common flavor seems to be pamplemousse (grapefruit), but we found a bottle of pineapple and it was very refreshing after a long day in the park.
At the Casino supermarket in Gabon's capital, Libreville, Andy and I each got a treat. For Andy, white chocolate with coconut pieces; for me, a mini yogurt with cous cous in it called Doudou. Both were very nice.
Favorite Gabonese breakfast: baguette with tasty beans and, of course, mayonnaise. Costs around 50 cents.
I can't tell you how long I have been craving a hamburger. I finally got one in Libreville, at a little fast-food joint called Kass'Kroute in a mini-mall, and it was amazing! Note that fries are served with ketchup and, of course, mayo as well.
Yoplait has a factory in Gabon and produces some cheap yogurts here. My favorite is the "fruits exotiques" flavor.
For our one-year anniversary (happy anniversary!), Andy and I went to an Italian restaurant on the docks in Libreville and both had gnocchi. His had a nice meat sauce and mine had a rather salty pesto, so he was a gentleman and swapped me half and half. Good times.
We had some free time in Libreville, so we went to a cafe where I could do a little work on my novel over an overpriced hot chocolate ($3). Better deal than the cafe in Yaounde, though, where I paid $4! The price of creativity...
Our lunch on the street yesterday in Libreville. Chicken grilled on a stick, loads of fried plantains, and of course, mayo!
We had dinner last night with a lovely new friend named Sarah who works at the American School. She took us to a great place with tasty brochettes (meat on a stick) and sides, and that is also where I had my first ever Orangina--a drink that seems to be popular, or at least heavily advertised, in this country. I loved it! Up there with lemon Fanta, and much more natural-tasting than nasty orange Fanta...
Here's Andy's dinner--chicken and beef brochettes, rice, and a side of aloko (fried plantains). Yum yum yum.
All right, that should wrap up foods of central Africa. Good stuff. I could eat Cameroonian beans and beignets every day (and did!), and Gabon also came through with some very tasty meals and snacks. We are supposed to cook an American-style meal tonight for our couchsurfing host (we're going to attempt chili), so maybe we'll post a snap of that in our next food entry...which should be foods of Madagascar! Yup, we fly out tonight at midnight to the land of the lemur. Can't wait.