18 July 2009


No, I didn’t eat hibiscus flowers. Hibiscus is a restaurant in Bujumbura that is the closest thing to fast food we’ve found here. Most places take over an hour to serve lunch (don’t even ask about the dinner wait), but if you sit down in Hibiscus and order the plat du jour, you’ll be served a Coke and a heaping plate of rice, beans, bananas, greens, and meat in no time at all. When I first noticed this restaurant I laughed at the take-out window, labeled “Hibi-quik,” because nothing is quick here. But now I believe in the quickness.

And the food was gooooood. Mike and our two friends cleared their plates in no time at all, then dug in to help me clear mine. There was so much food! We all stumbled out with pleasantly full stomachs, and pleasantly full wallets as well. Four plats du jour and four Cokes cost less than $9.00. Before heading back to work, we took a peek behind the building. There is a beautiful garden bar back there! I think we’ve discovered our new Friday lunch spot.

11 July 2009

fresh milk

When we first started doing research on Burundi one thing that worried us about the food situation rather than excited us (fresh mangos and pineapple!) was milk. We were under the impression that the only milk available would be very expensive powdered or irradiated, shelf-stable milk-like products. I resigned myself to two years of nondairy creamer in my coffee.

However, soon after arriving we noticed there were a lot of cows here. And a lot of tasty, fresh beef. Naturally we began to wonder if there wasn’t fresh milk available somewhere as well. (Just look at those happy, delicious, albeit thin, cows.) One day a coworker of Mike’s pointed out a place to buy fresh milk. It was as if we’d been inducted into a secret club. A building with a sign-less white façade has a grated door that leads you into what Mike calls the “Milk Bar.” There’s a counter, where if you bring your own bottles, a woman will fill them for you, asking “Pasteurize ou non pasteurize?” The first time we went, we decided to get unpasteurized milk and boil it ourselves. That was a disaster, so since then we’ve always filled up our three Nalgene bottles with lait pasteurize.

The reason Mike calls it the Milk Bar is this: In a separate room there are tables and chairs where men (and the occasional woman) sit and order milk by the glass. Cows are a sign of wealth and only the healthiest, wealthiest people can afford to drink a big glass of milk. It’s like a status symbol, to be seen sitting at the bar drinking a glass of milk. The women working behind the counter spend more time processing the receipts of the customers drinking milk by the glass than they do filling bottles for folks like us.

We love our fresh milk. It’s so wonderful in coffee. Our cook makes the creamiest ice cream and other desserts with it. There’s no such thing as a choice between non-fat, skim, and whole milk. It’s all full-fat milk, all the time. When we get back to the States, we’re going to be snobby fresh milk people who won’t be able to stand Stop & Shop homogenized milk by the carton.

05 July 2009

mango cobbler

Mango cobbler is the best term I can come up with to describe the wonderful dessert our cook made recently. (Yes, we have a cook. That’s why so few entries are about my own cooking adventures these days.) He goes into the pantry and riffles through my gluten-free flours and presents the results to me. Some of his creations are fantastic; some need work. But that’s the way it is for all of us gluten-free bakers. I think it’s great that he’s up to the challenge and he keeps trying. 

When this dish was first placed in front of me my initial reaction was “Peach cobbler!” But I quickly remembered we don’t have peaches here. Mango? Yup. Cobbler? Sort of. I think it’s a pie that may have gone wrong and then salvaged. 

Because of the language barrier, I can’t always get a great explanation about the food we’re eating. But I know it’s gluten-free (sans gluten) because I’ve forbidden him from buying local flour; he’s only to use what I provide.



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