Some Notes on Eating in Cameroon
In the "Travel Internationally, Do you eat Street Food" thread (in Not About Food), I mentioned that I was going to Cameroon. Okay, I've been back for a couple of weeks now, so time to talk about the food. In a word--delicious. Good, basic food, plus things I'd never had before (and isn't that one of the true Chowhound joys of travelling internationally?) I went there for just a week (for work--I was teaching a workshop). So, permit me to share with you some of the food highlights.
After being in transit for 28 hours, we (another person who was teaching) arrived in Yaoundé (Cameroon's capital). Our host picked us up at the airport, took us to our hotel, and then to a local restaurant. I wasn't hungry, having been fed plentifully on the flights. So I ordered a ginger ale. What a revelation! This ordinary bottle of Schweppe's was delicious actually had a bite of ginger! Real ginger! Not sugary, overly carbonated water with a chemical "ginger flavor", but the real thing. I was pleasantly surprised (and pleasantly amused by what I think was the Nigerian version of "Big Brother" on the television.) A nice start.
Our breakfasts were usually the same--some sort of pastry (croissant, pain au chocolat, etc.) The bakeries (French bakeries, owing to the history of Yaoundé as being part of the former French Cameroon and being Francophone). BTW, the bakeries there were hopping places at night! I also had coffee with it (caffeinated, a real treat for me, since I drink decaf normally--but there wasn't any decaf for me there). The coffee was sweetened with a local honey (on the recommendation of my host). I wasn't sure about the honey, but it was fabulous in the coffee. And the coffee was quite good!
A lunch buffet was prepared for the instructors and students (my students were professionals) where the workshops were taking place (at the U. of Yaoundé) I won't recount this day-by-day, but rather, I'll discuss some of the foods served. Everyday several bland starches were offered: rice, fufu (made with yams, though not what North Americans call yams), a white maize dish--these were all VERY bland, lacking even salt. But they served as a foil for some of the other food. I had chicken cooked with onion and tomatoes. The chicken was delicious (all of the chicken I ate in Cameroon was yummy, as it's organic by default--chicken that tasted like chicken!) I ate a stew made with local greens, tomatoes, onions, and something chewy that I couldn't quite figure out. My first thought was that it was some sort of local chewy mushroom (VERY chewy, I might add). My host informed me that it was cow skin and that it added much flavor to the stew. As an honored guest, she gave me another piece of cow skin! I had N'dole, which is basically the national dish of Cameroon. It's made with bitterleaf (a type of local green), peanuts, onion, tomato, and meat (beef in my case, though it can be made with other meat or shrimp). I had an okra stew (okra being a popular vegetable) and I even got the recipe (sans measurements). Lunches came with a condiment that was just referred to as "spice"--I think a combination of hot peppers and other spices. A nice foil for the bland starches, also the spice was just eaten as is, not on top of the starches. We did eat lots of plantains, too, which was a bonus for me, as I love plantain, especially when the skins get a few black spots! Not much of a chance to try street foods, since we were kept pretty busy, but we did get some boiled peanuts and roasted plantain, fruits (papaya and bananas--fantastic!), and some sort of weird fruit that I never could identify (must be local--purple skin, single pit inside, avocado-colored flesh--and it was roasted). I didn't care for the weird fruit, but I did like everything else!
Perhaps my favorite meal was the delicious grilled fish I had there. We went to a fish restaurant that my host called "Maison Blanc", where you can get grilled fish (or chicken) and either eat at the restaurant or take it home. There were about 10 or so brick ovens manned by women (no pun intended), who would grill the fish and place it on a table out front to sell. The women rented the ovens, so each oven was kind of like its own restaurant. We got three fish, and I don't know what they were! I am including a photo of the fish--perhaps some of the best fish I've ever eaten in my life! One fish we got was very flat, the other 2 not flat. Even if you buy the same kind of fish, the different proprietors will use their own sauces, so the flavors are very different. We took this fish to my host's home and had a wonderful dinner outdoors--eating fish with our hands, having cassava and papaya with it. Oh, lordy, was that good stuff.
I'll end this with a word about some fabulous honey that I had. On the road from Dschang to Yaoundé, we stopped at my host's village. There, I got some honey. This is incredible stuff, probably some of the best honey I have ever tasted. It's really complex, a deep, dark honey with notes of chocolate, vanilla, and having a finish like a deep, dark caramel. I brought a 4-lb. bottle of this honey back home with me (well taped, so it wouldn't ooze all over my clothes!) I despair of the day I run out of this stuff--I'm trying to ration it, but some day, when I run out, I suppose I'll need to go back to Cameroon! I would love to know what plants these bees pollinating! It's like a taste of geography, I suppose. I gave a little to a colleague of mine and he though he tasted curry notes in it.
BTW, if anyone can identify that weird fruit, I'd be very grateful!
My name is Henry and I am a Cameroonian that lives in Canada.
Your post gave a very accurate description of the food landscape in Cameroon. Hopefully, our tourism administration will do a better job promoting it.
The fruit you are talking about is called '' prune'' in french. You can eat it with bread, yam and/or green plantain.
Since your host was probably from the west (bamileke) you probably ate lot of dishes from that part of Cameroon and they are excellent by the way.
Many memories of my childhood resurfaced when I read your post and I felt compelled to reply. They are many problems in Cameroon but food is not one of them.
Thanks for sharing your experience
PS: I was curious to know the workshop you attended at University of Yaounde.
Hooray, lotsoffunlatte! I've been looking out for your Cameroon post!
I wonder if the purple fruits you had were safou, perhaps? (Picture at this link: http://www.paperblog.fr/2063269/c-est... )
Very interesting report. I really appreciate you writing on your experiences!
That's it!!!! Oh, bless you, cimui--you rock!
I wish this post hadn't gotten relegated to the Africa board (originally posted it to Gen. Chowhounding Topics) but so be it. The trip was wonderful--I'd never been to Africa before and it was a learning experience that I will always remember. I did come back home profoundly grateful for what I have!