Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nigeria's food: It's all about the suya

The food of Nigeria is good, but expensive. Street food is severly lacking, maybe because people demand higher standards of hygiene, because police shake-down roadside food salespeople, or for other reasons that we do not understand. In any case, we now present some food of Nigeria.

If we had to choose one contribution of Nigeria to the global food scene, it would be suya. Suya is thinly sliced beef, marinated, grilled, and cut into small, bite-size pieces. Most often it is served with onion and toothpicks for eating. This picture is not great, but is typical suya. This one is from a fancy bar, but our favorite suya vendor was an old Muslim man cooking it over a fire made of two-by-fours from a scrap heap. His was excellent.
Like most of the surrounding coutries, typical Nigerian food consists of a ball of starch and then a sauce. This one is called ebe, and we can't really tell you how it differs from most of the other similar things we have eaten. This sauce had some secret fish that they didn't tell us about, but was otherwise not bad.
While staying with Ashraf in Lagos (who was awesome), we explored his neighborhood and discovered a guy selling food down the road to construction workers and guards in the posh neighborhood. He was very happy to have us and we liked the beans and rice so much that we came back later for more. Unfortunately, we think that it made us sick, as our digestive systems were unhappy for a couple of days.
A popular maker of dairy products in Nigeria is Dudu. The name alone amuses me, but they also make some crazy products. Here is an aloe milk that Tara had. Pretty good, but a bit weird.
I also got a fruit cocktail milk, which was super sweet and, therefore, gets high marks from me. Tara made me hold her Hollandia blueberry yogurt, which I would never drink. She thought it was decent and it is shelf-stable, so no refridgeration needed.
Lagos had ice cream vendors on the street who make these tiny one-bite ice cream cones for about 7 cents. But the funny part is that the guy uses one of those tiny sample spoons to dip it out of a big box, so this cone is really like 50 scoops with his tiny spoon.
We have found some good meat pies in various former British places, but the "meat" pies of Nigeria did not stack up. The primary problem is that they never seemed to have meat. Sometimes flavored potatoes, sometimes macaroni (weird), but we must have bought five meat pies and not one had meat. I finally started asking people if their meat pies had meat, and most would just laugh.
While in Lagos, we went to a real, American-style barbecue complete with hamburgers, hotdogs, and chicken. Thanks to all of Ashraf's friends for making it a great experience! The hotdogs were especially good.
A pastor and his wife were very kind to us and shared a taxi. While waiting on a taxi, the woman bought these leaf steamed things and was kind enough to give us one. They are corn and taste like a decent corn mush.
Tara wasn't feeling great, so I bought her a Lucozade Boost, which I thought was like Gatorade, but is apparently more like Red Bull. It didn't help her.
Tara had one taste of a malt beverage and decided that she liked it. In this picture, she has bought one of her own along with a donut. She realized about 30 seconds after this that malted beverages (which taste mostly of molasses) are gross. But donuts are still good.
In Nigeria, FanIce is expensive and harder to find, but we found this knock-off ice cream for less. It probably didn't actually have any dairy in it, but it was not the worst frozen liquid that I have ever tasted.
Sometimes while in a taxi or bus, the taxi/bus slows down at a police roadblock, and you reach out the window and buy something that you don't know what it is from a woman who throws it at you while you throw money back at her. These turned out to be bean beignets with a slice of hot pepper on top. Not bad.
I was happy to find a liter of FanIce in the fancy supermarket when I was hungry one night. Unfortunately, it had separated and refrozen, which meant a crazy unsweetened Coolwhip-like stuff on the top layer and a sweet, icy layer on bottom. The last time that we buy a big thing of FanIce.
We then found a good softserve place in Calabar. The ice cream you see, it was about $1.50, which is expensive, but it was good. The funny thing is that we came back the next day and they guy said the price was now $2. We questioned it and he said that his boss decided that too many people were getting that size, so he raised the price. We then left without our day's ice cream.
While at Afi Mountain, we cooked for the first (and second) times in all of Africa. Not very exciting--pasta with chickpeas and onions--but we ate a pound of pasta between the two of us, so at least we had a lot of it.
Foods of Nigeria are now complete. We did not bring you any pictures from expensive restaurants because we did not eat in any expensive restaurants. Most food in Nigerian restaurants costs about the same as American restaurants for those who are curious. That was too much for our wallets.

Nigerian food definitely continues on the West African continuum, but by the time we got to southern Nigeria, there was starting to be less manioc/yam. That carries on through Cameroon. The meat on a stick changes a bit, but the grilled meat also starts becoming more popular.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where the Wild Things Are: Nigeria

Depending on how hardcore of an animal watcher you are, you may love or hate this post. If you refuse to go to zoos, skip this post. If you enjoy seeing well-taken-care-of wildlife, even if in a somewhat zoo-like setting, read on.

In Nigeria, a couple of organizations run programs to rehabilitate different types of primates that have been orphaned or were formerly pets. The biggest of these organizations is Pandrillus, an organization started by two somewhat crazy Americans who fell in love with a monkey called a drill, the most endangered primate in the world (and aclose relative of the more colorful mandrill). The program has spent the last 25 years preparing to release groups of drills back into the wild. We visited their headquarters in Calabar, as well as their "bush" location in the rainforest about five hours away. Here are some wildlife pictures from that outing.

People often bring injured animals to the center, even if it is supposed to be for primates. In this case, they were given a bushbuck, which is a type of antelope. This one was almost ready to be released again, but he discovered that I was a natural salt lick with all my sweat.
At Afi Mountain, Pandrillus's land in the "bush," butterflies abound, and I love taking butterfly pictures. Here is a nice blue one that we'll call Butterfly Cordon Bleu.
Afi Mountain has six different groups of drills, each with 15 to 125 individuals. Each of these groups has a dominant male and many less-than-dominant males. The dominant male can often be found sitting around like this one. The less dominant ones are constantly watching their backs.
Also, becoming the dominant male apparently causes hormonal changes that make your face get wider, your shoulders broaden, and your butt turn amazing shades of blue and pink. This all happens within a couple months of becoming alpha male.
Can't forget the mom and baby drills. This baby is a few weeks old and spends most of its time attached to mama.
The face of a drill looks almost like a mask, and you can certainly see how it would inspire native masks. This is also the dominant male, around ten or twelve years old. Drills live to be about 25 or 30 if lucky, but the older males live on the fringes of the main groups, with the dominant males not really fond of them.
Pandrillus also cares for chimps, most of whom started out as pets in terrible conditions. Unfortunately, chimps can't be released into the wild once accustomed to humans or they will simply run to the first house that they find to look for food. This guy is named Pablo, and he was confiscated being shipped to Asia 20 years ago. He was in a tiny box with no air that caused him to have a stroke, but he has largely recovered. He is a subspecies of the Eastern Lowland Chimp, and is a fun gray color, making him seem very old and wise.
While hiking in the woods one morning and looking for birds (I didn't see a single one), I was forced to amuse myself with these interesting fruits that grew directly on the tree. They would fall off and start to rot, where they would be eaten by animals.
It will shock our regular readers that I next turned to fungi for consolation. Here are some tiny tree-like 'shrooms. Probably not edible.
The camp had two African Grey Parrots that had been either confiscated or given to them. Both were unable to fly, so they would hop all over. These parrots have the best vocal cords of any animal except man. These spent most of their time imitating the noises of the jungle.
They had some big millipedes in he rainforest. If Tara wasn't careful, I might be digging one like this out of her scalp soon. Just kidding--these are harmless.
Look! More fungus! Such a nice orange color.
We have seen tons of termite mounds, most impressively tall. Termites in Nigeria prefer the understated, though, so they build mounds that are only about a foot tall but are an excellent shape. Almost like a mosque, so we'll say that in Nigeria, the termites have been converted to Islam.
Another nice butterfly. And it really didn't want to open its wings for a picture. Drills will sometimes eat butterflies and other insects.
What kind of crazy fungus is that?
Red butterflies are always eyecatching. Once they catch my eye, I try to catch them with the camera, but that is a harder task. After a bunch of tries, I finally got a picture.
Here is Tara in the hut that we stayed in at Afi Mountain. Fairly large. Apparently, the Nigerian government helped to build them a few years ago. The government is also supposed to help fund the organization, but somehow the money keeps disappearing. In Nigeria, this type of corruption is called "chopping" which is slang for eating. The money is eaten before it gets to where it is going...
That concludes the nature part of Nigeria. Maybe not the best actual nature, but we got to be up-close-and-personal with some really interesting primates and see some nice rainforest. We'll bring you some more nature from Cameroon, though don't get excited--wildlife spotting in the rainforest is really tough.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Nigeria is Nice

We can admit now that we had a few trepidations about going to Nigeria. Getting a visa to visit is difficult and expensive...the country has a reputation for crime and, Nigeria rhymes with malaria! These things seemed to bode poorly, and we initially planned to rush through the country as quickly as possible.

But I am happy to report that we had very little trouble at all in Nigeria, and ended up staying for 11 days. We were never asked for a single bribe (we did see plenty of drivers bribing police at highway checkpoints, but we've seen that in other countries, too). And everywhere we turned, there were people bending over backwards to help us out--giving us a ride, negotiating a taxi fare for us so we wouldn't get (too) ripped off, and just generally competing their hardest for the "friendliest people in West Africa" crown.

Things didn't start out so auspiciously. The Nigerian official on the border with Benin who, as he was stamping us in, said "Make sure to be back in your hotel by 7PM at night."

"What, just in Lagos?" Andy asked. (Lagos has a bad reputation for safety at night.)

"No, everywhere," the guard answered. "For your own protection."

Welcome to Nigeria!

(Then the guard tried to convince us to pay almost $100 for a private taxi driven by his "friend" to our destination in Lagos so that we would not have to deal with shared taxis. We assured him that we were quite capable of handling public transport in Africa and as politely as we could, refused this offer.)

Once we were away from the border, things started looking up. We passed some beautiful coastline and finally entered Lagos, Africa's biggest city. It has 14 million people, and makes enough electricity to power about three houses, so every person and business who can afford it has a diesel generator. As you may imagine, this makes the city pretty smoggy and gives it pretty much a permanent low hum.

At first approach, though, Lagos reminded me more of New York City than any city I've been to in Africa. It' s spread out over several islands (well, peninsulas, but they're called islands for some reason), and as your taxi zooms along the divided, elevated highways connecting skylined Lagos Island (Manhattan?) to fancy residential Victoria Island (Lagos's Brooklyn Heights?), well, you might just mistake it...

OK, not really, and the closer you look, the less like NYC it seems. But we were glad we braved the warnings and spent a few days checking this city out.

Hotels in Lagos are really expensive (also like NY!), so we were very lucky to be invited to couchsurf with Ashraf, a Canadian teacher currently working at a private school and living in Lekki, an even posher neighborhood just beyond Victoria Island. (P.S., if you are a teacher and like to travel, you may want to check out job openings in Lagos--our host' school gives him a guardhouse-protected three-bedroom apartment with satellite, Internet, and a washing machine (we took full advantage of all three), and a car, plus salary...not bad!)

After a day of lounging around in the AC and catching up on laundry and blog entries, we ventured with Ashraf to Lagos Island to check out the sites. At the national museum, in addition to some impressive Benin brass statues, there were some good traditional outfits on display. (Julie, we learned that each Yoruba ruler would have his own personal beaded-ornament maker...want to apply?)
We then ventured further downtown to check out the markets. They were slightly more anarchic than some of the others we have been to, I guess, but not too insane. There were very few tourists about and we got many enthusiastic shouts of "white man!" or sometimes just "whites!" All friendly, though, people seemed happy to see us mingling. Anyway, here was my favorite sign in the carrying stuff on your head allowed here!
Lagos Island also had some nice churches...
...and mosques. Nigeria is largely CHristian in the south, Moslem in the north.
Due to time constraints (OK, and a bit of recent unrest), we stuck to the southern part of the country. Our second destination was Oshogbo, to see the Sacred Forest. It is a centuries-old forest filled with 20th century, modern-artsy shrines designed along traditional themes. Most were designed by Suzanne Wegner, a European artist who is hugely revered in the area for her work in the forest.
Multiple people we spoke to in Lagos thought the shrines were disappointing, and Andy shared this assessment after our visit, but I thought that they were awesome.
Here is a couple in a nook near the entry to the forest.
The gates to the main part of the forest. Due to an outrageous camera fee (around $35), we were not able to take pictures in the main area, but my favorite statue was one depicting the evil god of chicken pox standing over a mass of writhing bodies begging him for release from their afflictions.
But not all the creativity in Oshogbo is in the sacred forest. We found this roadside casket workshop quite enthralling.

After Oshogbo, we went to Benin City (not to be confused with the country Benin). I will pause to note here that when you travel by shared taxi on a long journey in Nigeria, you should get ready for some prayers. Sometimes it was just a pastor saying a few words asking Jesus to bless our journey, sometimes it was half a gospel choir harmonizing in the backseat, but there was always a prayer. My favorite one asked god to protect us from "calamity and catastrophe" on the road. Eep. I think it was that journey where the driver ran over one goat ("that was the only goat I ever hit in my life!" the driver said), and then an hour later almost hit another.
Anyway, Benin City is home of the famous Benin brass statues. Apparently we took no pictures of these at the museum there, or at the one in Lagos, which has almost as good of a collection. Since that is pretty much all there is to see in Benin City, I suggest that maybe you skip it if pressed for time on your next visit to Nigeria.
Near the museum, we did find this statue that Andy thought looked strangely like pilgrims and Indians.
All of the hotels we stayed in in Nigeria came with ACs and TVs (which we found interesting given the power problems!), but we especially liked that our hotel in Benin City put our TV in a cage.
Our final stop was Calabar, eight hours east of Benin City and near the Cameroon border. It was definitely the nicest, greenest, and safest-feeling city we visited, and has a couple of terrific primate-saving NGOs you can visit (Pandrillus and Cercopan). Andy will write more about it in his post about wildlife. I guess we didn't take too many pictures otherwise, but I did feel that we couldn't leave Nigeria without a snap of my favorite-named bank in the country...
Well, if you're not a "Lost" fan, you may not get it, but if you you think it's related to Oceanic Airways? Mr. Eko is from Nigeria, do you think he is involved somehow? Plus, it just sounds like a fake, sketchy bank name, doesn't it? We did not try their ATM.
So, Nigeria...not so bad! Maybe not the number one country you should rush to for your next vacation, but if you need to pass through, you needn't be scared, and you should be able to find more than enough things to see and plenty of nice people to help you out along the way.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pass me a mango--foods of Togo and Benin

Eating was one of the top pleasures of our 10 days in Togo and Benin. With many ethnic groups spanning the border, the two countries have a lot of similar foods, but we also felt like we got to try a good number of regionally specific foods, too.

In short, they are yummy little countries. On to the photographic evidence...

We were lucky enough in Togo to be hosted by two sets of PCVs--nope, not a type of plastic or toxic airborne particle, but Peace Corps Volunteers! We were also lucky that our hostess in Lomé, Danielle, loves to cook and had the perfect combination of baskets and fridge (wow!) full of market fruits and vegetables and cupboards full of delicacies she had smuggled in from the United States in her the real maple syrup she served with homemade pancakes on our second day there. Mmmm, a taste of home (OK, technically a taste of Canada, but pretty darn close).

On our first night in town, she whipped up a tasty pasta primavera, and then snuck back off into the kitchen to prepare a delicious dessert of blended mangoes, sugar, and milk, below. Simply delicious.
And Jorge introduced me to the guys down the street who make wonderful yogurt out of powdered and condensed milk. Hooray for homemade yogurt!
Danielle asked me and Andy if there was any type of food we missed from home, and of course our thoughts immediately ran to dessert. Since Danielle had all sorts of crazy stuff like brown sugar and oats on hand, we decided to attempt making a mango crisp (since it is mango season right now, mangoes are abundant and quite cheap) in the "oven"--an amazing stovetop concoction of Dutch oven and sand. Here's the crisp a-cookin'...we served it later à la mode with packets of Fan Ice squeezed on top, and it was such a success that Danielle made another one the following day!

In West Africa, Chinese restaurants are expensive, and instead Lebanese restaurants tend to fill the niche of quick and fairly cheap takeout. We all lunched at one in Lomé--Andy, Danielle, and Jorge all had plump rotisserie chickens with salad and chips, but I got a big plate of hummus, which I hadn't had since we left the states. It came with a pile of pitas and made my tummy happy.
This may look like meat on a stick, but it is actually soy! It is marinated in a peanutty sauce and is a popular Lomé snack.
This bowl of dried fish is resting on a saleswoman's head outside of a bus stop on our journey up to Kara. Dried fish is super-popular in West Africa--every market has a whole section of it, which you can smell before you even see it. (And it gives every sauce that hint of fishiness that Andy loves so much...)
In Kara, our second round of PCV hosts, Liza and Charley, took us to their favorite outdoor pintade place. Pintade is guinea fowl, which is kind of like a chicken. Anyway, this places hacks up a pintade, grills the pieces, and serves them with raw onions and two seasonings--spicy piment, and the popular bouillion-like Maggi seasoning--which you dip your pieces of fowl into as you eat them.
Along with a couple more PCVs from the region who happened to be in town, they also took us to a local restaurant that serves an array of starches and sauces for incredibly cheap prices. How cheap? All the dishes you see here cost about $1.50, total. Clockwise from left--meat sauce, cheese sauce (popular in Togo and Benin is a fresh-mozzarella-like farmer's cheese that is often fried in pieces and thrown into a tasty sauce) mixed with a fish-tinged vegetable sauce, pâte (a pounded cornflour concoction, sometimes fermented-tasting, as this one was), and another corn-based starch, baked in muffin molds, called something that sounds like hablo. (Spelling, anyone?) You rip off a piece of starch, scoop up some sauce with it, and eat.
Street breakfast in Kara--a fun-shaped donut.
A very popular drink in Togo is called Sport Actif. It's supposed to have a lemon-grapefruit flavor, but Andy and I didn't really taste the grapefruit. It is sugar-free and is meant to have electrolytes or something healthyish in it...I dunno, but it tasted good.
Behind the starch-and-sauce restaurant in Kara is an even cheaper place that serves fufu (pounded yam) and sauce. Andy and I stopped in for lunch and got three fufus and a bowl of sauce for dipping for 30 cents, total.
We have not been able to find our beloved sugary peanuts for a few countries now, but in Togo and Benin we did find peanut clusters like these. They tended to range in price from 2 cents to 5 cents apiece depending on size.
My friend Kathryn, a former Togo PCV, sent us great tips about things to eat and drink in Togo. On our last night in the country, I had to follow her advice and go to a tchouk stand--a roadside shack where homemade millet beer is served in gourd bowls. One bowl costs 10 cents. It's pretty much the social thing to do in Togo--I made friends with the guy you see next to me and learned a lot of sad facts about the state of education in Togo (he's a teacher).
On the nonalcoholic front, Kathryn recommended that we look for Cocktail de Fruits soft drink, since we liked Fanta Cocktail so much. Good call! We found a giant bottle for about 75 cents (yes, more than twice the cost of our fufu lunch). Slightly different taste than Fanta Cocktail, but very good...if, like us, fruit-cocktail-flavored soda is your thing, of course.
Thanks again to Liza and Charley, our last dinner in Togo was unique--street salad! We had never seen this before, but apparently it's a thing in Togo. The ladies in the streetside shack chop up and toss together lettuce, onions, beets, spaghetti, vinegar, and mayonnaise before your very eyes. I added a hard egg to mine, and Andy had chicken with his. They throw in some bread and voila, dinner. I guess the only thing that's really weird about this mixture is the spaghetti, which seems to be treated as a condiment in some parts of West Africa--I've seen it now added to salads, to rice, and even as a filling option for sandwiches...
Both Togo and Benin had those baggies of juice we love, and Andy was especially excited that lemonade (actually, I think it's usually limeade) was a popular offering. This bag that he bought on the Benin border was very sweet and his favorite.
Whenever your bus or car stops in a town, ladies run over with snacks to sell to the passengers. Sometimes, a town seems to have a specialty--we went through one place where all that we being sold were these bags of what looked like a chopped up yellow fruit along with a few coconut chunks. So I bought one. The coconut was good, but I don't know what the yellow things were...they were crunchy and not sweet. Hearts of palm is my best guess...
In Natitingou, Benin, the name of the game is fried snacks, and there is one vendor in particular who is the queen of them. She makes the fluffiest little savory beignets (donuts), wonderfully sweet plantain fritters, plus little crunchy fried things and yam chips. No pics, sadly, but if you are ever there, she is a couple of blocks north of the Ecobank on the main road--you can't miss her because her stand is constantly surrounded by a hungry mob.

Another fried superstar of Benin is what Andy calls "bean clouds"--a bean beignet with a wonderfully light texture. Here's a pic of one in Abomey with some spicy piment sauce on top.
Battle of the mangoes! I bought two different-looking giant mangoes in Abomey for a taste-off. One cost 20 cents and one cost 25. The 25-cent one was riper (too ripe, Andy thought) and the other one ended up having a bad spot so we could only eat about half, so it was a draw.
Failed experiment in Abomey--Andy bought three of these banana leaves filled with a steamed millet paste with sugar added. Sounded like a tasty idea, but we didn't like them much. At least they only cost 10 cents...we gave away our last two to more appreciative palates at the Internet cafe and hotel desk.
Fan Milk products are made in Ghana and Togo, but thank God, they sell them in Benin, too. And we even got to try a new variety--FanLait vanille (vanilla ice milk). All the flavor of Fan Ice with (I assume) less fat!
At the Marche de Dantokpa in Cotonou, we found a vendor selling these huge live snails, and she kindly allowed us to take a picture. (These are WAY bigger than the ones Andy ate in Morocco!) The little girl helping at the stall hid under the baskets when she saw the camera come out--people here are really wary about having their picture taken.
This meat on a stick in Cotonou was amazing. Pounded very thin and tender, then coated in spicy piment at the end. (Cheaper than Brazil's cheapest at 20 cents a stick, too.)
What's this, an undiscovered species of fried ball? These cost 2 cents each and tasted like hush puppies.
On our way to Ganvié, Andy tried this gloopy-textured and slightly-fermented tasting porridge. We've had better.
This may not look like much, just a plastic bag full of pineapple chunks. But oh, they are special. First of all, they are the sweetest, most delicious pineapple chunks we've ever had. And second they come from a Cotonou pineapple lady, who for 30 cents and in about 30 seconds will skin an entire pineapple in one spiral and cut it up for you with her giant knife. You find them in the Marche de Dantokpa and even just roaming the streets with big bowls of pineapples on their heads.
Finally, here is a bowl of beans from the fantastic "bean ladies" who set up in the street outside our hotel in Cotonou every night. The beans are stewed with spices and palm oil, then some extra palm oil is thrown on top for good measure. The ladies also sold bread and purified water sachets, and this bowl came as part of what we dubbed the "bowl of beans, loaf of bread, and gallon of water for $1" meal deal.
In conclusion, food in Togo was delicious and cheap, and food in Benin was possibly even more delicious and even more cheap. Things pretty much don't get better than that for us in food world.