Salone Chop

January 5, 2011 § 2 Comments

Mokabi, local vegetable related to eggplants but very bitter unless you salt it, boil it and then rinse it in cold water.

Carried away by travelling stories as I am, I seem to have ignored the fact that this blog is meant to be mostly recipes and stories about food. So here I have put together a post on Salone cuisine as I have experienced it so far. I wouldn’t be able to say that it is completely traditional but it’s been an interesting exploration in itself.

The Krio word for food is simply ‘chop’. Most locals will agree that unless you have had rice with your chop you have not eaten. The second most common ingredient after rice would have to be cassava, of which both the white root and green leaf are used.

Cassava leaf

I have seen so many chickens killed, plucked and cooked here in Sierra Leone. Here is Teeboy our neighbour.

Theresa our neighbour and friend cooking dried cassava

Theresa has been cooking for us 3 times a week. Usually spiced cassava leaf with dried fish and rice, or beans and cassava root all made with lashings of palm oil. As long as there’s not too much dried fish, I think I have started to like this standard local fare especially since my attempts to cook here on our small coal pot have left me often disheartened. My first three dishes – black-eyed peas that tasted like mothballs, watery pumpkin soup and soggy pumpkin fritters – well, I don’t really want to talk about it. Thankfully we have overcome the dilemma of melting plastic bags on the coal to get it lighted, like the locals do, by buying some kero to assist our attempts. Even though not as resourceful, at least it is not as toxic. But since then I have had some small successes, including fried spicy pumpkin, black-eyed bean stew and some rather nice cardamom pancakes with fried bananas wrapped inside. I tried to stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of buckwheat pancakes with home-made honey labna and stewed seasonal fruit with a hint of star anise, to no avail. It dawned on me that my taste buds have been too long spoilt with the luxuries of a well-stocked wholesome organic pantry and I’m reaching the point of no return. Even my shame for cringing at a perfectly nutritious meal in a country where the very basics of food cost a person almost their entire wage, are doing little to satisfy these damned taste buds.

Chillies come wrapped in leaves and garden eggs (eggplants)

However, I also have a confession to make, a favourite local chop of mine is far from wholesome and I have no idea about whether it is organic. It is a Shawama, which is BBQ beef cooked with chilli maggi powder on fulla bread with mayonnaise and I usually have it with a can of soft drink. Now for those of you who know me, wheat and beef are two things that rarely end up on my plate and prior to coming here I don’t think I had had a soft drink since I was in my teens and wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I had. I don’t know what is happening to me but perhaps my taste buds are getting a little less fussy after all. Although I think it is more a case of finding comfort in things that are familiar, I am an Australian after all.

Fresh coconut

I didn’t want to leave you with an unsavory taste, so here is a very photogenic coconut eaten fresh from the tree.

I promise recipes very soon.

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