Location: Central Africa
Area: Over 2.3 million sq km; 11th largest in the world
Slightly less than one-fourth the size of the US
Official language: French
Population: Over 71.7 million; 19th largest in the world
Literacy: 54.1% for women (2001 estimate)
Drugs: One of Africa's biggest producers of cannabis
Source: CIA Factbook
These next two countries are going to cause me some problems, I promise. I won't get into all of it here, but basically it is hard to distinguish between the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the Republic of the Congo from a cultural and cuisine perspective based on the research I was able to do. Not saying they are the same, or even as similar as I may think. But the internet was not very helpful when it came to differentiating recipes.
There was actually a surprising amount of recipes that were labelled as Congolese. Certainly more than many of the other African countries I have cooked. However, many of these were very similar to each other or others I have already done. And, of course, a lot of them used peanuts. Kevin, you're really cramping my style...
In the end I decided to try Mbika with Meat. Not only was it from a site called "Congo Cookbook," but I would get to use banana leaves. I found them in the store immediately after needing them for Cambodia, so I knew exactly where to find them.
Some of the ingredients were pretty obscure, so I decided to start with what I considered my best option. There is a tiny international store near-ish to our place that I had never been to. It is hard to get to and they are pretty small, but they had the one characteristic none of the others did. Their sign said they specialized in African food. It ended up being a great choice. The woman behind the counter was very helpful and nice. She was from West Africa and was enjoying the warmer weather we've been having.
Some of their merchandise was beat up, and I wouldn't buy produce from them. Obscure packaged things though? Awesome. The only thing they didn't have was the banana leaves. For that I had to head to the European/Brazilian store. The things I do...
Luckily I didn't have to roast or grind any shells to make flour. That was one of the things that made the African store so awesome.
They had smaller packages at the store, but they were a bit sketchy. All of the labels were pulled off. I went with the bigger one. I later saw the same brand at the European/Brazilian store. That made me feel better, because it was probably an issue with shipping, not the brand in general.
|It was very separated and hard to mix together.|
|The lighting isn't great on the stove, but palm oil certainly has a distinct color.|
|And dangit if the fan for the kegerator with two pull taps won't work!|
The banana leaves were frozen, so I had to take them out to defrost. They were all different sizes and a little hard to untangle. I did put them in a warm oven as suggested. In the end, easier to work with than grape leaves. At least when I had Kevin helping.
|Goya does EVERYTHING.|
|Yeah, I had to cut that one up.|
|That was all the oil needed to get it to work.|
We are having some real issues with Africa. We aren't always comfortable with the ingredients. Sometimes it ends well, sometimes it doesn't. I think some of it is a texture problem too. I may have been more okay with this if it didn't have that consistency. Which is unfair to the food, but true nonetheless. I also wonder how I would be if a professional chef prepared these dishes. I would trust them more to do the right thing.
But never fear, we will not give up! In fact, we are right back at it because...
Next time: Congo, Republic of the