Thursday, June 30, 2011

Local food in a foreign country

After my Libyan experience in Gabon, I decided to search for local food in Port-Gentil. I managed to get to a restaurant that is so local that no-one would ever find it without local intelligence. Definitely not a restaurant that you would either stumble upon during your stay in Port-Gentil or read about in the Lonely Planet. Commonly known by the locals as "Maphine's Place", Restaurant Divengui Chez Maphine is nothing more than a old dilapidated converted home in one of the neighbourhoods not far from town. At first sight one might think that you are at the wrong place, but the smell of food on the fire gives it away. Finding the entrance tothe place is just as tricky, but we just followed our noses and ended up in a very small roofed veranda with some chairs, tables and enough evidence that this was in fact a restaurant.

The menu was scribbled on a black board and I recognized the word "Capitain" which I assumed could only be fish. I guess one cannot go wrong with fish in Gabon and ordered the Bouillon Capitain  without bothering with the rest of the menu which I in any case did not understand. The two side dishes were as local as one can get. Banane Plutain is a close relative of the common banana, less sweet, harder and seldom eaten raw. We had it fried, one of the many ways it can be prepared. With that we had manioc, a vegetable that basically grows in any type of soil and that looks very similar to sweet potatoes. I am sad to say than none of the two above mentioned produce tastes anything like their closer relatives. Knowing that this is Africa where sweet food is not really appreciated, I am sure that with a little sugar both of them can be turned into a pleasant side dish. Today I was not that fortunate to have it sweetened and swallowed hard on both. The fish stew however was rather tasty with lots of spices with a little bite in the taste. It was a bit awkward when the fish head turned up later but by that time I was totally intrigued with my real "African experience". The fact that most of  the fish was already down by then convinced me to finish the rest as well. It was in any case good enough to finish, and Africa has more than enough hungry people, I did not dare send any back. Fortunately a friend of mine from Chad was happy to finish the banane plutain and manioc. In their country it is also not wasted.
I have to admit that this is not the restaurant most Westeners would feel comfortable at, but this is the closest you'll get to African cuisine without having to catch the fish yourself or digging out the manioc from the ground with your bare hands. Libya might also be in Africa, but Gabon IS Africa, and today I had a good taste of local Gabonese cuisine. I have reason to believe that my next meal is at a more European style restaurant also somewhere here in Port-Gentil, so more on that later....

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