Gabon

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Bonjour from the west coast of Central Africa, where this weekend we visited the francophone nation of Gabon. The country borders three others that we had already visited: Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo. This part of the world seems to be among the most difficult to find information about here in the United States, but we looked forward to learning as much as we could.

While I was out seeking some fresh-baked baguettes at the local co-op on Saturday morning, Jess was busy preparing some West African beans. She had learned here that these ingredients, together with some mayonnaise, would make for a tasty Gabonese breakfast sandwich:

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Later that morning, as I boiled some yams (real ones, not sweet potatoes) in preparation for our lunch, we watched the Gabon episode of Geography Now.

Our lunch consisted of the boiled yams, now thoroughly mashed into a thick and sticky paste, along with some fried plantains and a vegetarian version of the national dish, nyembwe chicken. Besides substituting smoked tofu for the chicken, I also had to substitute some sunflower butter for the palm butter that is preferred in Gabon. Here’s the result:

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In the afternoon, we watched a few short films about the dense forests of Gabon, including this short documentary about the country’s underserved Pygmy population:

For much of the day—more than six hours, in fact!—Jess had been steaming some batons de manioc (cassava sticks) which eventually accompanied the dongo-dongo okra stew that she prepared for dinner. It was well worth the wait:

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The cassava batons were chewy and delicious, though some of them required even more steaming before they were fully cooked. Between these and the yams and plantains that we had enjoyed at lunch, we were getting a good taste of the starchy staples that form the backbone of many an African diet.

Our feature film for the weekend was a documentary called The Rhythm of My Life (2011) about an African-American rapper who has travelled from Miami to Gabon to record music. The film included a charming mixture of interviews and conveniently staged scenes. Here’s a trailer:

Then next morning, Jess toasted another baguette and we enjoyed some more Gabonese breakfast sandwiches.

We also watched a few more short videos about Gabon, including this inside report from the BBC about the effects of the country’s substantial oil wealth:

At lunch and dinner, we again enjoyed the Gabonese dishes that we had prepared the day before. While we hadn’t managed to find much in Buffalo that seeemd to relate to Gabon, we nevertheless had a fine time exploring the food and culture of this oil-rich, hip-hop-loving paradise by the sea.

–Derek

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