I’m going to the garden to eat worms…

It all started with the caterpillars. We went out for a nice dinner for B’s birthday at one of our favourite restaurants in Kinshasa: RE-source. It’s a lovely setting with good food and as an added bonus the chef likes to send over little amuse-bouches which are always delicious.  As predicted, we started off with an appetizer of our own choosing, but he also sent over delicious ginger beignets and veggie fritters. As we waited for our main course he came around again with four plates setting them down in front of each of us.

We looked at the plates. We looked at each other. We looked back at the plates.

“Caterpillars, grubs and crickets,” pronounced one of our dining companions.

Hmmm…

We knew that the menu included a salad with such insect delicacies, but none of us had been brave enough to order it. Apparently, though, the chef had recognized that we might all be brave enough to try it if it was put down in front of us.

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I have to admit I bypassed the crickets on the left, but I ate everything else and, a bit to my shock, it was pretty good. I don’t think the avocado and feta cheese hurt anything as far as my appreciation for the grubs, but they definitely didn’t completely mask the taste.

This foray into insects as dinner started a chain reaction of Congolese food exploration – though for much of it I’ve done more viewing than eating.

In Kinshasa there are no “fast food” restaurants (unless you consider a 15+ minutes for your burger ‘fast’), but there is food that you can acquire and eat on the go. I’ve been fascinated by the street food since we got here, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I finally ate some.  When I first saw the “egg men” I thought they were carrying raw eggs and I lived in fear of the day I would see one of them drop their pile of egg crates, thereby losing their livelihood for the day.

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It turns out though, that those are boiled eggs with a little jar of hot sauce (pili pili) on the side. For 250 Congolese Francs (about $0.20) you can get an egg with spice either in powdered form (milder) or liquid form (hot!). The vendors carry a little knife with them and after taking an egg out with a plastic sheet (so they are not touching them) they crack it all the way around and peel the shell off revealing a perfect boiled egg (miraculously in my opinion because I always tear the egg and end up with a mess…). Then they add the spice and voila – lunch!

Other options for “fast” food include omelettes made on little stoves along the sidewalk (and I will be eating one of those one day soon because they smell AMAZING), little sausages wrapped in croissant that you can get out of the window of your car as you are stopped at a light (I’ve been sorely tempted to buy one some mornings, but we are not allowed to open our windows while we are driving so, alas, I’m out of luck on this one), and chickwangue (pronounced “chick-wang”) which is, perhaps, the most ubiquitous food in Kinshasa.

Chikwangue is a staple for most people here because it is filling and cheap. It is made from the Yuca root, also know as ‘cassava’ or ‘manioc.’ It is the tuber of a large shrub – tapioca comes from the same plant. Around here, the root is boiled, formed into a “log” of sorts and then wrapped in manioc leaves and sold on the street for about 500 CF ($0.40). In other parts of Africa the manioc is boiled and served hot, almost like polenta or oatmeal, and is called Fu-fu. The leaves are also used – they are ground up and boiled with onions and garlic to make something like creamed spinach (without the cream) called Saka-saka, ngai-ngai, or pondu.

These are the staples of many of the Congolese people, along with plantains and bananas, rice and, if they can afford it, chicken, or fish from the river. We pass stands by the side of the road with fish hanging from strings, fresh from the Congo River. One of the standard fish is called capitaine, a relatively mild white fish. The traditional way of cooking it, called maboke, is in manioc leaves (yes, them again) over a fire with peppers. You can also find fish being grilled street-side.

Unlike many places in Africa there is not really a “cuisine” as such in DRC, just a few dishes, like Maboke, Chikwangue and Pondu, that are considered Congolese (though most of them are eaten all over Africa in some form or another).

We’ve also been enjoying – quite literally – the fruits of our garden.

Last year our avocado tree produced exactly one fruit, so it was hard to appreciate it for more than the shade it provided. This year it has been so prolific I feel like I spend half my time trying to find new recipes to use all the avocados. We also have a maracuja (passion fruit) vine which has been dropping little balls of yumminess into the yard for the last month or so. Our coconut tree also gives us a nut or two every month – though most of the time I don’t have the energy to make my way through the husk, so I give them away. This week, for the first time, we also managed to get a ripe breadfruit off of the tree in our compound (they usually disappear with staff or guards before they get ripe), so last night I made breadfruit fritters. Breadfruit are actually pretty fascinating – called “ulu” in Hawaii – they are considered to be a candidate for curing hunger because they are so fruitful and have so many good health benefits. The fritters were pretty good too – potato-like and extra good with onion jam.

Finally are the foods in Congo that either make me cringe or laugh. I’ve been told that the poce and makokolo (the big fat grubs below ) are “délicieux” but I don’t think I’ll be testing them out before we go. Of course, the Congolese think it is bizarre that we eat raw vegetables, mussels and escargot, so it’s probably only a question of getting used to the idea…but I think I’ll stick to the avocados for now.

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Gluttony

glutton_for_punishment_hat-r26f989937ffb4ad1bfaeb82a8781c695_v9wfy_8byvr_324Apparently I am a glutton for punishment.

And, I’m also a bit of a glutton.

My last day being a practicing lawyer was supposed to be this Thursday, April 30.  I was mentally prepared (and both trepidatious and excited) for that day when one of my partners called me about three weeks ago.

Law Partner: “Hey. So, you know that case you are transitioning to me?”

Me: “Yup.”

LP: “Well, it looks like it is scheduled to go to trial June 1.”

Me: “Yup.”

LP: “Don’t suppose you’d like to stick around and help me try it?”

Me: “Um…I’d have to check with B.” (Mentally thinking that B might, literally, kill me if I work for another 6 weeks – particularly work to get ready for a trial…not exactly “part time” work)

LP: “Well, check with him and let me know.  I wasn’t sure if it was cruel to ask you since we all agreed here that you wouldn’t be able to help yourself from saying yes. But, since I could definitely use the help, I figured I’d just be cruel…”

Ah, these people know me too well.

So now I do not have 3 more days of work left, but 43 (or so) more days.  And part of me is thrilled; SO excited to try a case with my wonderful LP and the wonderful client we represent in this case.  And part of me is, like, “WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU!”  Sigh.

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C is shaking her head too…

In this midst of the hand-wringing over my job, B and I have also been continuing our “gluttony” quest of checking off restaurants on the Washingtonian’s List of the 100 Very Best Restaurants.  We’ve hit No. 1 and No. 95, and 15 others in between, with one more (No. 11) scheduled for later in May and a couple of others that we plan to check off before we go.

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I have to admit that I am not sure I agree wholeheartedly with the placement of each of these restaurants on the list – for instance No. 22 was head and shoulders above No. 15 both in terms of food, and service (price too, admittedly, but still…) and No. 95 was better (and way cheaper) than No. 54, but, nevertheless, it’s been a fun (and quite delicious) way to spend our “date” time in D.C.

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It’s also shocking to me given the quantity I feel like we have eaten in this quest that we have not even cracked 1/4 of the 100 restaurants on the list.  But the quest will continue – at least until we roll our way onto a flight to FullSizeRender (13)Kinshasa – so maybe we’ll at least reach the 25 number before we leave.

 

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In other exciting news, we found out this morning that we got our housing assignment in Kin – and that we got a house! HOORAY! We will be in a compound with a number of other families with young children, and we will have our own yard (Miller, the Dog, is doing his happy dance) and our own pool. SO EXCITED!

We really are doing our best to enjoy our time left in the D.C. and the U.S., and C and I are about to head out on several cross-country adventures to visit family and friends, but after eight months here we are also itching to get on our way to the D.R.C.

With somewhere to live it feels like the countdown is ON!

Rolling toward move day…

Who knew there were so many calories in joining the Foreign Service?

I certainly didn’t, but seriously, the number of dinners, lunches and drinks that I’m consuming as I make my way toward our move date is getting to be a little obscene. I really may be “rolling” out of Charlotte on August 22 in a very literal sense.

When we found out B had an offer to join the August 25 A-100 class, I started a “Charlotte Bucket List” thinking we’d list – and visit – all the places we loved in the city before we left.

Turns out all those places serve food.

So far we’ve managed to cross off Fig Tree (once for our anniversary, and once more for good measure for me with my amazing book club friends), Vivace, Soul, Bistro La Bon, Mert’s, Nikko…and the list goes on.  And that doesn’t count any of the lunches that I’ve been making my way through every day (B also admitted sheepishly that he has been doing a “farewell tour” of his lunch haunts).  Today I finally had to barricade myself in my office and eat a Lean Cuisine, lest I explode…

Beignets at Fig Tree...Yum...

Beignets at Fig Tree…Yum…

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From the Vivace balcony looking at Charlotte

We have managed to also visit a couple of non-food related places, including the Lazy-5 Ranch where we got to feed giraffes (or “G-giraffes” as C calls them), Bank of America Stadium (though to see UK football not US football), and Discovery Place, but the primary focus has clearly been food.

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Liverpool v. A.C. Milan!

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

Lazy-5 g-giraffe

The thing about all these visits is that the food, and the places, have been entirely secondary to the people we’ve been with.  The real “bucket list” it turns out, is about people.  The people we love and will miss in this lovely Southern city we have called home for so long.

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Where in the world? Discovery Place!

Only two more weekends remain in Charlotte – so we’ve got a bunch of places – and people – left to visit.  By the end of the next two weeks I may have to eat plain broth for a month to fit back into my clothes, but new wardrobe be damned, I’m going to keep eating…and visiting…and sharing a last few precious hours with the people and places we love.

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