In Benin people eat A LOT and being called fat is a compliment...
They also drink A LOT but not water only beer and oranges.. water is for when you are sick.
If you are not fat or you lose weight.. or you drink water... then people think you are sick or unhealthy.
I guess you can imagine where that leaves me.
As I have said before on this blog... people are accepting of my weird eating habits. I am not saying they understand. Basically, anything weird I do in this country is just brushed off as a weird yovo thing that the yovo does. [That being said I think I should mention that I have met a few vegetarian nationals]
At some point during my first month in Misserete I became sick.. not incredibly sick.. but sick enough that I called out from work and made an appointment to see the doctor (luckily for me I was already scheduled to go to Cotonou the next day). When I returned I found out that everyone at my office had collectively decided I must be starving.. why else.. is this overly hot tropical country where she isn't even supposed to drink the water could she possibly be sick. At which point I had my privacy completely infringed upon. It was insisted that I let some of my coworkers into my house to see that I had a kitchen set up and that I had food in my kitchen. Sometimes I really wish I could give the people I work with a piece of my mind.
On another occasion I had a man tell me – honestly – that people who don't eat animals don't have blood in their bodies. In case you didn't know.. human bodies are not capable of making their own blood we need to extract it from other living creatures. Sigh.
I have had people come to my house offering me food – with the intention of convincing me that I should pay them to cook for me everyday since I obviously don't know how to cook or care for myself since I don't make pate or akassa (the staples here.. both of which I don't mind the problem is I hate the sauces that they are served with).
My neighbors are convinced I eat only crackers and oranges. Unfortunately, this doesn't keep them from asking on a regular basis if I have food to give them as a gift for their nagging. If one more person asks me for chocolate I might scream at them.
As much as no one here believes it – I do eat – I eat very well. AND I am slowly mastering the one portion cooking. We really take for granted the ability to refrigerate left overs at home.
I eat beans. I eat lentils. I eat pasta. I eat a lot of rice.
I eat vegetables. I eat bread. I eat fruit...
For breakfast I usually eat a cliff bar or any other various granola bar that I have received in a care package from home :)... (Hey GUYS Maple Nut Cliff Bars are my favorite (I also like the oatmeal ones) – yes I know they are hard to find on the East Coast – but I know a secret place that usually stocks them). On weeks where I am feeling a little more decadent (or should I say homesick) I will buy chocolate spread.. and eat chocolate banana sandwiches for breakfast. I don't attempt the peanut butter banana – Erik just does them so much better I could never hope to replicate.
Lunch is more varied. If I am going into Porto Novo for any reason I have voandzu for lunch. These are Bambara Ground Nuts.. and they are delicious. I usually eat them on bread or with gali (powdered manioc). The women who make voandzu here in Misserete make it way to spicy. During training I ate avocado sandwiches for lunch (there is a lady at Songhai who makes them with onions and tomatoes and is there everyday until 11) If I am feeling lazy I will just get some hot bread from my local boulangerie and eat it with peanut butter or I will buy a bag of oranges to “Drink.” If I am feeling more ambitious I might make myself french fries with chopped up garlic. I am not really a big lunch person – never have been.
Sometimes.. If I am visiting someone.. I end up eating a early dinner late lunch. Usually if you are visiting someone anytime between 2 and 5 they will give you something to eat. However since this is Benin they expect you to eat a lot. This is usually where I get my salad (salads here are served over pasta). I don't usually make myself salad because I don't want the lettuce to spoil if I don't eat it quick enough. I still seem to stumble on salad about once a week.
My favorite things to cook for dinner are lentils or plantains. I like to fry up plantains and eat them for dinner with rice and beans. Most often I cook up lentil with veggies and eat it with rice or on a baguette in a sloppy joeish type of fashion. I have found that lentils are really versatile and easy to cook in one portion – plus they are great when I am feeling low on energy. When I eat pasta I usually cook it with avocado or carrots and onions sauteed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Another thing I make is a vegetable and potato hash.. this is really good if I have veggies that are starting to go and it is very filling. Occasionally, I will just heat up a can of beans with a spice packet from home and eat it over rice or bread.. just to change up the flavor a little.
I eat a lot of onions carrots and potatoes. I sometimes buy green beans and cucumbers. I would say I usually have an eggplant once every two weeks (the problem with an eggplant is it is too big for one person). I eat “soy cheese” which is really a tofu like thing that the people here call soy cheese. But I only eat this on the day I go to the market in Porto. I am not sure what the shelf life is so I eat it right away and they don't sell it at my local market. Oranges, bananas, and pineapple are plentiful this time of year.. and Papayas are easily found in Porto Novo. Mango isn't in season yet.
On the rare occasion that I drink something other than water – my drink of choice is Youki Pamplemousse aka grapefruit soda. If they don't have that.. I will drink Judor which is an orange soda. It is really nice to splurge on a cold beverage from time to time.
Lentils and Rice (Adapted from my Peace Corps Cookbook)Ingredients: Lentils, Rice, Chopped Onions, Carrots, Sliced Garlic, Green Beans, Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Thyme
Cook The Lentils and Rice Together.
In a Frying Pan Cook the Carrots Onions and Garlic until well cooked in olive oil. Add Green Beans. Once the Green Beans Are Cooked add the thyme and balsamic vinegar. Add cooked Rice and Lentils and melange Until everything is well cooked and it tastes good.
*I will adjust this recipe with actual measurements next time I make it.