Started the day with checking in to my hotel. Yesterday, this hotel had to send me to the hotel next door because they were full and weren’t able to contact my host before they dropped me off. No problem. Check out there was noon and check in at this $200/night hotel is 130pm. So I figure I better put some shorts and a t shirt on as it’s gonna be hot.
I’m waiting in the lobby and getting lots of stares. And not good stares. Stares like- how long are you staying here – stares. I get those alot, but that’s usually when I’m in Jeff’s kitchen. The hotel clientele are mostly suits and dresses and high heels. I have on Keen slip ons, shorts (nice ones, though!) and a Carhartt T shirt that’s clean and no holes. And my red Taku River Reds hat. The best part I found out later when I got to my room with the full length mirror was the black dress sock action going into the black slip ons under snow white limbs. Dems are some tasty legs, my friends.
I drank a cup of $3.00 coffee and refilled at the thermos. I was then told no refills. So now I’m $6.00 into coffee I don’t really like. Whatever, people. I look at my guest sheet after checking in and see there was free coffee about 10 feet from me in the restaurant next to the coffee shop. Got it.
I worked on my training manual most of the day, and got a hankering for some chop. Of course, this place ain’t exactly serving the food I’m looking for. I start to walk out the gate to the street and stop and talk to the security dude. I said hey, I want to find a cook shop as I found out that’s the local name for “chop shop” that we used in Sierra Leone. He says there’s a restaurant in the hotel. I says I want rice. He says “you want African food?” I says yes. That immediately made him happy. He escorts me about 50 yards from the gate and says “under the plum tree”. I said thanks and head over. It was across the main street and down a side street about half a block. And boy howdy, you gotta watch your nylons crossing the four lanes of traffic here.
I’d paid anywhere from $3.50 to (gag) $10.50 for a plate of rice and sauce upcountry. I arrive at the lady, who is on the side of the street with two big cast iron (maybe aluminum now?) pots. One is on top of a local charcoal stove and the other on the street. Behind her are plates and a bag in a container that has the cooked rice. I ask the lady what she has and she shows me. Granut pepper soup with chicken and pork. She tells me the price but I can’t really understand. And don’t really care. My mouth is already watering after seeing the soup. I ask what’s in the other pot and she shows me. Green leaf sauce of some kind but it looked pretty done for the day. I didn’t see any ring of palm oil, and didn’t want to be disappointed so made note to self- get here earlier tomorrow.
She piles rice in the bowl and puts on a few pieces of meat. I think she said $1.30. I give her $1.50 hoping I heard right. Apparently I did. She offered no change and I didn’t ask for any. As I went to sit on a bench in the sun next to her she said to go sit across the street on a bench in the shade. Her son was laying there with ear buds on listening to music on a smart phone. She tells him to move. He goes to get up and leave and I said no- stay here. There’s room for both of us to sit. So he sits back down and is lost in his music again.
Then I dig in. Of course it’s incredible. As I eat, Liberians pass and seem incredulous – in a good way – the large white man is sitting on a little bench enjoying his rice and the day while the young boy next to him vegetates to his music. Even the street hawkers don’t bother a man eating street food.
The cook was happy for me to ask what she was going to have tomorrow, which indicated I liked what I was eating and that I’d be back. I then ask her where I can get bananas and she escorts me down the block to the next cross street. We see a woman with a tray of bananas walking away half way down the block and the cook hollers. The banana vendor returns. Up country, bananas were 3 for ten cents. Here, they are 10 cents each, which seems about right. So I give her 50 cents and she selects what she sees as the best bananas, probably because I didn’t bargain with her. Bananas (but not plantains) here are always sweet – whether they are green or yellow skinned. They are my favorite African fruit. When I arrived in Sierra Leone in 1986, I could not eat much of the rice at first because it made me full right away. But then I was hungry 30 minutes later. So I befriended a street vendor and learned the language buying bananas every day to get me through till I got used to the rice. Now African food is my favorite, along with the bananas.
I walk back to the swanky hotel feeling like the Anthony Bourdain must feel on his show. Even when he’s not filming. Got the real food I was looking for and the cook looks she’s doing alright if her 10ish year old son has a smart phone. Good food, good service, and low overhead. The secret to success just about anywhere.