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I’m just here for the food
Everyone has a reason for riding with Tour d’Afrique. Many, I would presume, have come for a personal challenge; dig deep and you will find your true self. Others have come to experience another culture, escape the daily grind, or simplify life. The reasons for riding are as numerous as the riders themselves. I’m not much of a bike rider myself, but I do love to eat, and I have come for the food.
“What is the local specialty?” should be in the phrase book of any adventurous traveler. To experience the food is to experience the culture. Here is a quick overview of some of the local specialties we’ve been filling our bellies with lately:
Falafel: made with either fava beans, chickpeas or a mixture of the two. In Egypt they take on a green hue due to the presence of parsley and other herbs. It is usually served with deep fried peppers and eggplant, fresh tomatoes and watercress. They’re always eaten with pita; either as a sandwich or a platter. Outside of the major tourist centers a US dollar will get you all you can eat plus a Turkish coffee to wash it all down.
Tamiya: once we crossed the border into Sudan our beloved falafel underwent a few changes. They lost the green colour as only a few herbs, if any, are added. They also lost they’re vegetable accompaniments. The texture has changed; with a thicker greasier crust and a moist center they almost resemble chicken McNuggets. The one improvement the Sudanese have made is the bread; thicker and moister than the Egyptian pita, it has great flavour with a pleasant chewiness.
Fuul: pronounced “fool”, is the soul food of Egypt and Sudan. Boiled fava beans are served with their broth and oil, season at the table with salt, chili, cumin and coriander. It is eaten from a communal bowl with chunks of bread. Right hand only please!
Sheep’s head: exactly what it says. Various bits of meat and bone from the head of a sheep, cut into pieces and apparently stewed. Everything goes in here, brain, ears, eyes, and tongue. Once you get past the idea of what your eating it’s not bad with a bit of salt and lime. The locals devour it with gusto.
A day in the life
The experience of managing the food for TDA has been an experience of learning and inspiration. Being that this is my first time to the continent and working for TDA I really didn’t know what to expect. Cooking meals for 60 on three propane burners? Before coming here it was hard to believe that it could be done. As it turns out the old saying “many hands make light work” is especially appropriate for the task at hand.
I wake up at 6:00 to be in the kitchen by 6:30. Wimpy and Jansee are already well along in the breakfast preparations. I pour a cup of tea and help make sure everything is ready for 7:00. A typical breakfast includes coffee (Wimpy’s rocket fuel) and tea, porridge, bread and spreads. By 7:30 we’re all finished and we start cleaning up. We’re always delighted to find stray bowls, cups and spoons left behind by groggy riders. It costs a beer for the kitchen staff to come and claim it from the lost and found. As soon as we hit Ethiopia Corola Tize owes us a case. After breakfast we make sure the lunch truck is fully stocked; 5kg of cucumber and tomato, a couple pounds of cheese and 200 pitas should do the trick.
Then it is off to the market; the highlight of my day. Each market has its own character and it has been fascinating to watch the availability of produce change. This is also where we sit down to a platter of fuul and falafel as no day is complete without a taste of the local cuisine.
The daily market experience is made simple by the assistance of local guides/translators. We request a desired quantity of produce which is weighed on an old-fashioned scale. In the larger markets enterprising young boys will transport the food back to the truck with a wheel barrel in return for a dollar. As you never know what will be available it is difficult to plan ahead; just buy as much as possible for as long as it will last (2 days in this heat) and figure it out when you get to camp.
We arrive in camp in the early afternoon. Wimpy conjures a soup out of whatever needs to be used, while the rest of us set to chopping onions. As the riders arrive many come to the kitchen to offer assistance. We’re happy to put them to work, cutting the ends off beans or grating carrots. Claire Pegler deserves honourable mention as she never fails to offer a hand.
Cooking for a group this size and with such tremendous appetites isn’t overly difficult, it all comes to numbers; 8kg of rice, 12kg of meat and a pot full of veg means that you should have leftovers for tomorrow’s soup. The difficulty lies in the availability and variety of quality meat and vegetables combined with the fact that stewing and boiling are the only techniques that can be reasonably utilized.
We serve dinner at 6:00 to a hungry crew. Spaghetti Bolognaise, curry and rice, grilled meat with coleslaw and potato salad have been some recent favourites. Each rider is responsible to bring their own dishes and we serve the meal into a whole variety of vessels from woefully small travel mugs to ambitious mixing bowls. By 6:30 everyone has eaten their fill, we cleanup the kitchen, get ready for tomorrow, and look forward to another day in paradise.
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