Food, glorious food

I’m not starving. Not even close. After five days here in Lubutu, the biggest issue for me is not weight loss but weight gain.

I’m not starving. Not even close. After five days here in Lubutu, the biggest issue for me is not weight loss but weight gain.

The days start early. The staff who take care of our temporary home arrive a bit before 6 a.m. They cook the food, wash the dirty dishes, cook more food, clean and iron our clothes, cook a little more, clean out bedrooms and communal bathroom, and finish their day by cooking. Their headquarters, obviously, is the kitchen, a large open room with a few provisions, two big wooden counters stained black from smoke, an open fire hearth for cooking, and an electric oven for baking.

Breakfast is very simple: bread and coffee or tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is a feast. Served at 1 p.m., there are invariably three starches: rice, potatoes, and pasta. For carnivores, there are two meats: chicken is roasted or stewed and goat is invariably braised. A tomato-based sauce can smother the taste of these very free range meats.

The standouts are the vegetables: green beans pan fried with onions and garlic, mustard greens cooked with herbs in a light cream sauce, of one of the myriad uses of eggplant.

Yes, the staff are masters of eggplant. It is grilled and tossed with fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes, braised sweet onions, and garlic. It is stuffed with breadcrumbs, cheese, and oregano. It is sliced thin, salted and rinsed, layered with tomatoes and cheese, and baked with a cream sauce on top.

The condiments available here are striking - fresh honey, pesto, Nutella, Dijon mustard, Heinz ketchup, olive oil, Speculoos (a kind of hyper-sweetened Belgian peanut butter) and strawberry jam.

But the best part is the cheese. By local legend, an Italian cheese maker immigrated to Goma several decades ago. Though deceased, he dispersed his knowledge of cheese production around eastern Congo. In consequence, we eat cheese one would expect to find in Tuscany.

Compared with the early afternoon foodfest, dinner is rather subdued. The staff often will bake bread or make quiche. We eat the leftovers from lunch. Mostly we sit around drinking bottles of Coke, Fanta, or local beer. If an expat has recently arrived in Lubutu, there is a chocolate bar to divide into twenty pieces for dessert.

We don’t have fresh milk. We don’t have hot water and the generator stops running at 10 p.m. But we eat like MSF royalty.