I thought I would revisit my initial impressions of Cameroon, after having had some time to see a bit more of the city of Yaounde and experience some more of its culture. I spent a week in Yaounde, mostly working, but did get some time off to explore. I spent an afternoon touring around with American coworkers who left Yaounde before me, and then another day being shown the city by a resident who I had also met through work. I got to see the artisan market, the fabric market, the regular market, and all kinds of views of the city.
Yaounde is a friendly city, and all of the locals I met were very warm and welcoming. By the end of 4 days working together, everyone wanted to exchange contact information and stay in touch. They were all eager to share their culture and customs with us. And I wanted to soak up as much as I could! Us out-of-towners were staying at the Hilton hotel, and for the first couple of days we didn’t have time to leave much. My first 6 meals in Cameroon were all in the hotel! Finally, we went out to dinner, to a Cameroonian restaurant. It was a group outing, and we pretty much took over a whole section of the place. This was our chance to try some of the local food!
We got online at the buffet, and thankfully, our coworker P, was with us and she’s a local, so she could guide us through the unlabeled feast that was before us. There were leafy greens, two different kinds – one kind of reminded me of collard greens, and the other was more like spinach. I prefer the spinach-y one myself, as the collard-green-y one was a little too bitter for my taste. Then there was the fermented root…. I think it was Cassava, ground up, then wrapped in banana leaf, and fermented – that’s what’s pictured to the right. I believe it is called Bobolo. (For more on bobolo and other traditional Cameroonian dishes, click this link to an article from the Burlington Free Press). It is not very flavorful, and has a gummy texture – a lot like glutinous rice, that is used a lot in Asian cuisine (my favorite way that it’s used is as the outside of Mochi Ice Cream). We tried dipping it in various different sauces – a peanut sauce that I think had some meat in it, that complimented it quite well. And a hot sauce, that totally took over and burned all the way down to my stomach. I had, stupidly, taken the mild bobolo and dipped it in a healthy coating of the spicy sauce – I hadn’t tried the sauce before, but I figured it wouldn’t be too strong. WRONG! Wow. I broke out into a sweat, and tried to put out the fire with a sip of Castel, a local beer. That didn’t really help. Rice. Didn’t help, still burned. Finally, the thing that cooled the burn turned out to be avocado salad. Note to self: the soft, smooth texture of avocado is just the thing to cool you down after you eat something that might be more spicy than you can handle!
After I had tasted the hot sauce, and the beads of sweat had stopped forming on my forehead, my friend J wanted to try the sauce. I tried to warn him about its heat, and his exact words were “get out of my way”. I responded by saying alright, and handing him the plate. Suffice it to say, despite the fact that he too isn’t afraid of a little spice, he found this sauce to be a little too hot to him too! Well, at least I wasn’t the only one who broke into a sweat from the food, not just the heat & humidity of Cameroon! J, if you’re reading this, don’t feel bad. Playfair at Life123.com wrote an article about this hot sauce and had this to say about it: “Chiliheads and hot spice fanatics first need to be duly warned that they are about to be knocked out of their chairs.” So it doesn’t sound like you & I are not the only ones who were to be taken down a notch by this hot-sauce!! Think of it as a lesson in humility for us both!
After our adventures with hot-sauce, I was pretty much done trying anything new that night. On the nights that followed, I sampled fried plantains (yum – very similar to how they are cooked in south & central America), local fish, and a few other local specialties. All good, but none quite as interesting as the hot sauce adventure! But, as I always say, I’ll try anything once, so rest assured, there will probably be more tales (some regretful I’m sure, but some enthusiastic too) of adventures in international food-tasting soon enough! With an upcoming trip to Tanzania, I’m sure to get into something tasty! Or at least, noteworthy!!
Until the next tasty adventure,