My time in Freetown so far has also been quite a culinary adventure.
I’ve had shawarmas, cassava leaves with rice, red pepper soup, foo foo and other types of soups in which the contents was a mystery to me. When walking into small restaurants hidden in corners – the kinds that do not advertise themselves as restaurants and do not normally carry menus – I ask for the same dish that I see another Sierra Leonean customer having. I have no clue what it is or what it contains – I just figure if a local is eating it, it must be good. This has usually turned out to be a good strategy.
However, being American, there is one thing I just could not resist – eating inside a shiny, newly constructed, air conditioned and expensive fast food restaurant. And every time I have done so, I regret it.
I don’t say this as an insult to the fast food restaurants of Freetown. The food is decent, but rather pricey, especially considering the small portions that these restaurants serve. Every time, I have walked into one, I never see a significant number of Sierra Leoneans eating there. Perhaps they have more sense than to spend such a ridiculous amount of money on such small amounts of food.
I’m slowly picking up some of that sense, and I don’t regret it for an instant. Unlike what my American friends and colleagues fear, I have yet to get sick as a result from something I’ve eaten here. On second thought, I did get a slight stomach ache once, and that was from an over priced restaurant that served food that still wasn’t quite as good as my editor’s wife’s cooking. There went Le 25,000 down the drain that I can never get back.
I confess that I was apprehensive about trying food from a ramshackle venue, where the cooks used simple pots and charcoal set up right in plain sight and where flies circled ravenously around. But that apprehension subsided once I realized how much more bluntly delicious this type of food was compared to the food served at a fancy, air conditioned restaurant.
Whenever Westerners travel to developing countries such as here, we are forewarned to not eat food cooked on the street or served at dingy looking restaurants, for fear that we will contract some fatal disease. While I don’t doubt that it is, indeed, valid advice, it instills a ridiculous amount of fear for Western travelers that prevents them from appreciating the culinary essence of what a country has to offer.
While I do miss American foods such as pizza and hamburgers, I don’t need to eat them here. They are available at the drop of a hat in my home country, so why bother? This is my first time in Africa and I intend to enjoy it to the fullest, even if it means taking a few culinary risks.