Bonjour from the Central African nation of Cameroon! Most profiles of the country begin by talking about how diverse Cameroon is–with French-speaking and English-speaking regions (plus over 200 local languages), Muslim-dominated and Christian-dominated regions, and a variety of landscapes, including beaches, rainforests, desert plains and mountains. And, I guess by pointing that out, I’ve followed the trend.
So, Cameroon is diverse. But what does “diverse” really mean in this case, and could we capture this diversity in a weekend in the Boston area?
We began Saturday with spaghetti omelets, a popular breakfast dish in Cameroon. While it may not be entirely traditional, it does reflect Western influence on Cameroonian culture. The ingredients are pretty inexpensive, and making it seems like a good way to use up leftovers, so I can imagine why the dish became so popular.
I’m not very good at flipping omelets, so the omelet completely fell apart, and the end result looked more like spaghetti with scrambled eggs. I may also have used too much spaghetti, in proportion with the eggs. It looks like the flying spaghetti monster is on top of the split baguette here:
But breakfast was filling, and kept us satisfied through the morning as we did errands. For lunch I made pound beans and Irish potatoes cooked in red palm oil, which we had with rice. We quickly realized that this tasted very familiar to something else Derek had made during a previous globetrot, and Derek looked through our old posts until he found it: the gnonmblin during our weekend in Benin. As we globetrot to more and more countries, making similar dishes during different weekends is bound to happen. While we ate our pound beans and potatoes, we listened to a compilation of Cameroon blues and jazz songs on YouTube.
Derek spent much of the afternoon working on a time-intensive recipe for dinner, koki, coarsely ground black-eyed peas steamed in banana leaves. He had to soak the dried black-eyed peas, run the peas briefly through a food processor, soak them some more, and then rub the peas between his hands to loosen the skins, and then pick through the peas to discard the skins–and that’s before he mixed the peas with onion, spinach, and red palm oil, and then bundled the mixture in banana leaves.
As the koki steamed, we looked for videos to watch about Cameroon. We got a crash course on the country’s geography, demographics and political situation:
Another video we watched followed a Peace Corps volunteer, Ludi, in her work in rural Cameroon.
For dinner we had the koki, along with n’jamajama, greens cooked in, you guessed it, red palm oil, that thankfully took a lot less time to cook. We weren’t sure what to think of the koki. We imagined the peas would be softer and more like a paste, but our koki was rather crumbly. We’re not sure if it should have been cooked longer, or if the peas should have been ground more. But Derek still gets a lot of credit for trying his hand at a very time-consuming recipe. Here’s the unwrapped koki:
After dinner, we watched the French film Chocolat (not to be confused with the 2000 film with Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, which takes place in France), about a woman’s memories of growing up in 1950s Cameroon, and the tensions between whites and Africans. Here’s the trailer:
I made spaghetti omelet for breakfast again the next day. The ingredients stuck together a little better this time, but still looked more like scrambled eggs and spaghetti than an omelet. Since it was Sunday, and since about two-thirds of Cameroon is Christian, we watched some Cameroon choir performances as we ate, including this one.
For lunch we had leftover koki and n’jamajama with some rice, before going out to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather. It wasn’t as warm as Cameroon, which appears to be currently having eighty-degree weather, but fifties in December is pretty warm for New England.
We watched a final video, which told us about how illegal logging and industrial farming are endangering Cameroon’s rainforests, in order to keep up with growing Western demand for timber and other products such as palm oil. It was a sobering reminder that economic growth in developing countries can have negative effects on the environment as well as people and animals who live on that land. After the video, we had more rice and pound beans and potatoes for dinner, wrapping up our Cameroonian weekend.
Hopefully we captured some of the diversity of Cameroon, if not all of it. We’re definitely getting used to cooking with and eating red palm oil, and Derek’s skill working with banana leaves may already surpass my omelet flipping abilities.
Our next globetrot will take us to another country shaped by British and French influences: Canada. Merci, et à bientôt! Thanks, and see you soon!