Friday, July 3, 2009

Cameroon food - part 1

Ndolé with fried plantains

Food in tropical Africa, as everywhere in the world, is mainly made with local products. Notable exceptions: tomatoes have become a staple, after being imported by the Europeans who had themselves imported them from South America. Tomatoes are not quite as ubiquitous as in southern Italy, but are the go-to item for sauces when a cook is in a crunch. Another import is salt cod, also known in the Americas as Bacalao. Cooked with what else... tomato sauce! Onions are also very popular, and I don’t think they are originally from the African continent.

Ndolé plant
Food, traditionally, is cooked. Well cooked. Salads used to be an unknown entity, and older people still call it “goat’s food.” Raw, or insufficiently cooked, would have been—and may still be—dangerous, in the hot and humid equatorial climate, where bacteria thrive, as it is never cold. Snow is a completely unknown entity.

Even after a third of his life spent in temperate climates, my husband will not touch a piece of fish sushi with a ten-foot pole! Meat and fish are either stewed, grilled over a wood fire, or fried.

Miondo and N'dolé with shrimp
 The most famous Duala dish, and arguably the most famous Cameroonian dish is Ndolé. It’s a stew of groundnuts (finely ground), ground dried tiny shrimp called Dibanga, finely chopped Ndolé leaves, and a protein: meat, dried fish or shrimp, usually. Ndolé leaves are from a bush, aptly named “Bitterleaf,” in English-speaking African countries, because before the leaves are boiled/washed in water containing kaolin clay, they are indeed unbearably bitter and are used to treat stomach ailments. Ndolé is served either with boiled or fried plantain bananas, or with Miondo, otherwise known as cassava sticks: fermented cassava wrapped in leaves*, and boiled. To eat the Ndolé with Miondo, you unpeel a Mondo (singular), which is a little sticky, fold it, dunk it into the stew and bite a piece off.
Miondo are typically Duala; however, the Béti, from the center of Cameroon, have something similar, Ebobolo, much thicker than Miondo.
*Leaves are either Bendomban – a plant growing in the wild; or banana leaves, when Bendomban is not available.
Making Miondo