Saturday, April 26, 2014

Culinary Catastrophes

The last few blog posts have been a bit too serious for my liking so I think it’s necessary to have a more light hearted interlude (although still a serious matter in my opinion). For those of you who know me well, you should be aware that Rachel and food have a very close relationship. I think my love of food was sparked around the same time as my love of travel. I was also blessed to have a mother who cares deeply about the environment, health, and what that means for the food we put in our bodies. I blogged about food the last time I was in Uganda because it became a HUGE source of frustration for my slightly snobby taste buds.

I do not consider myself a picky eater. I will willingly eat whatever non-meat food item appears on my plate (and even meat when I’m forced to be culturally flexible). That being said, I’ve discovered in my old age that I feel a lot better emotionally and physically when I eat quite frequent small portions of a whole-grains plant based diet with a plethora of delicious spices and flavours. I’ve also learned that I go through spicy food withdrawal if I don’t get a nearly daily dose of spiciness.

Recently a friend of mine sent me this gem of a buzzfeed list that fairly accurately describes my relationship with food (as long as the said food is healthy). This list was particularly valid when I was in my crazy running stage of life and therefore needed frequent calorie boosts to make up for all the calories I lost when I destroyed my muscles every day. Unfortunately, my food life in Uganda does not fit any of the above descriptions. I am all about adapting and attempting to be a local as much as possible. But Ugandan cuisine seriously fails to inspire or fulfill my nutritional needs. While I also find Dutch food uninspiring and bland, at least I can find anything I could want in a supermarket and most of my cultured friends will begrudgingly admit that perhaps Dutch food should not make it into any list of popular international foods.
Let me describe a typical day here:
Around 7 am: wake up make myself a hearty bowl of oatmeal/porridge (I will never get sick of this for breakfast) with some tea and fruit on the side.
Just before 8: walk to my office.
Between 9 and 10: depart for the field (depending on how efficient things are on a particular morning, but the word efficient doesn’t really exist in Ugandan vocabulary)
Between 10:30-12: Rachel starts to get a bit hungry. Ignore it knowing that it will only get worse and you won’t see food until 4 at the earliest.
1 pm: Sneakily eat a small snack (so that I don’t have a share it with the driver and my translator, evil and selfish I know).
3 pm: Yep. Starving and tired. How are the driver and intern just fiiiiine?
3:30 pm: If I haven’t given up already, conduct one more interview then insist on heading back to town (this usually involves around a one hour plus drive back).
Around 4-4:30: arrive at the one restaurant in town that still seems to have food (since they make all the food at once in the morning then run out at the end of day). Conversation with the waitress:
“Do you have beans?”
50% of the time: “They are not here.”
“Do you have gnuts?” (the only other vegetarian protein option)
50% of the time: “They are not here.” OR no response then 15 min later: “Gnuts are over.”
“Fine. I’ll have a chapatti.”
This is where I resign myself to eating the oily flatbread that offers no nutritional value.

If I’m “lucky” a bowl of beans and a huge plate of white rice awaits me. Upon its arrival I promptly ask for the chili sauce and pour half the bottle into my beans to the horror of my Ugandan co-workers. This still fails to fully give the food flavour. 

Because I am usually afflicted with low blood sugar and very grouchy during this time, talk is limited and when the conversation turns to Ugandan food and questions of whether I have tried matooke (boiled mashed bananas with zero flavour) or other local “specialities” (I had tried every single Ugandan food within about a week of my first visit since there is absolutely no variety), it is all I can do to politely respond through clenched teeth: yes I have tried matooke. It was not my favourite.

Although I’ve spent a decent amount of time in this country, it is a constant source of frustration that given how fertile the land is, Ugandans continue to “nourish” (if that is the best word considering that SO many people develop diabetes later due to the very carb based diet and love of sugar here) themselves with a startlingly limited variety of food and virtually no spices. Food wise, I can hardly wait to get back to my quinoa, greens, whole grain bread, larger variety of veggies, buckwheat, loads of bean varieties, nuts, and a pantry full of spices to satisfy my culinary creativity.

Happy first King’s day in a while to all my friends in the Netherlands! Someone go eat a nice meal for me please!  

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