I woke up late this Sunday morning, brushed aside the mosquito net and swung my bare feet on the warm cement floor. Stumbling into the dining room, my eyes opened wide at a much welcome sight. René, a Belgian surgeon, sat at one end of the long dining table, an open can of French foie gras before him. Fortunately he was willing to share his little piece of culinary heaven with me. We both ate so much that we left the table contented and ill. During our breakfast conversation I had heard loud noises coming from the kitchen. Jana and Remo, German expatriates, were making coffee cake. Brushing aside any thoughts of satiety, I dug in. It was delicious. Finally free, I waddled out to the terrace where Maria poured me a tiny cup of ultra-strong Lebanese coffee.
As expatriates in Lubutu we eat very well, but the food is not varied. Breakfast is bread, butter, and jam, along with coffee or tea. The bread is tasteless and has the shape of a slightly elongated hot dog bun.
Lunch is at 1 p.m. and is the largest meal of the day. It is served as a buffet on a side board in the dining room. Several identical, covered serving dishes hold the food which varies little from day to day. The buffet starts with rice, potatoes (mashed and boiled) and badly overcooked pasta. Next are vegetables, usually one raw (sliced peeled cucumbers or whole cherry tomatoes) and two cooked. Spinach is a constant and the second is always poured directly from a can, usually corn or green beans. We always have two meats. The most likely is pork cut into little chunks prepared grilled or in a bland oily sauce. Chicken sometimes appears, but into pieces and floating in a mysterious brick red sauce. Once every 2 weeks there is terribly smelly fish that forces me to eat on the terrace. The cooks deep fry plantain slices to eat as slightly sweet chips. Dessert is usually pineapple chunks. Someone drags out a few bars of Belgian or French chocolate out of the refrigerator, breaks it into chunks, and we argue the merits of one brand over another.
Dinner is mostly lunch leftovers but often the cooks prepare two plain roasted chickens (plucked next door in the kitchen- watch out for feathers!) and either bread, pizza, or quiche. The last two are a bit different from what I am accustomed. The staff uses the same dough as to prepare bread, but they allow it to rise in the pizza or quiche pan before baking. The result is a delicious thin topping sitting atop a one inch thick crust, occasionally raw in the center. Pizza toppings are corn, tuna, chicken (with bones) or canned slimy mushrooms. The quiche is always leek.
It sounds delicious, right? It is but it is also repetitive. The staff who cook our food appear to have no knowledge of spices or variety. The spinach is prepared exactly teh same way each day. There are dozens of bulbs of garlic in the pantry, all unpeeled and rotten.
Condiments have saved me. I slather virtually everything in either ketchup or Bertolli pesto. I do have one special treat I look forward to each day. Remember those deep fried plantain chips? I put several on a plate and microwave until they are viciously hot. I dip a fork into a jar of Nutella and apply the black paste onto the steaming chips. After a minute, this perfect combination is cool enough to eat. People here make fun of me because I eat this every day and am clearly in ecstasy with every bite.
On Sunday the kitchen staff departs at 1 p.m., leaving the afternoon for the expatriates to get creative in the kitchen. A few weeks ago I made Chicago-style stuffed spinach pizza which was a great hit. Other have created Javanese curries, Belgian rice pudding, French eclairs, and Algerian grilled chicken — all delicious. Today started with foie gras and German coffee cake. I wonder what’s for dinner?