The service in Rwandese restaurants is notoriously slow. Waiting an hour to get your food served is no exception. When the restaurant is full of customers, I can imagine it takes time, but somehow that doesn’t seem to be the reason. The same thing happens when you are the only customer in the whole restaurant. It might be because everything is prepared from scratch. It’s not easy to estimate how many customers will come to the restaurant in a day and food that has been prepared cannot be preserved. I can only empathise with attempts to preserve food, but why then does it take at least half an hour to get a cup of coffee?
To most Rwandans, lunch is the main meal of the day. Most of them live to far away from work to go home, so they eat in a restaurant. Right, you see the problem coming. Everyone wants to have lunch at the same moment and with the slow service in the restaurants that means… people are away from their job for a long time. In most African countries that wouldn’t be a real problem, it would only mean the lunchbreak would be a bit longer, but it’s different here. Economic growth and efficiency are important, so the President ordered that lunchbreaks would only last an hour. The result is that most restaurants serve a buffet around noon, where the food is ready and everyone can choose what to take themselves. Added advantage is that Rwandans can indulge in their preference for a lot and especially stomach filling food.
A buffet here usually contains three sections. Section one has two or three kinds of meat (of which you are supposed to take only one piece, more is not appreciated), the second section has some kinds of vegetables (at least one of them being beans). And the last one (or really the first and most important) are the stomach fillers: a large selection of fried potatoes, boiled potatoes, steamed plantane, boiled plantane, white rice, spiced rice, ugali (a cake made of maizeflour), yam, or cassave). The restaurants that cater to foreigners on a regular basis might add a small corner with salad (lovely avocado, my favourite!). And then it is funny to watch the different cultures. Of course I’m generalising, but where westerners usually (remember, it’s daily routine here!) put a lot of salade on their plates, a bit of potatoes or rice, a decent amount of vegetables and sometimes a piece of meat, Rwandans make completely different choices. They fill their plates first with the stomach fillers, and I really mean filled to the brim, so I wouldn’t be able to add anything more. On top of that come the vegetables, preferably the beans, and a piece of meat. Sometimes they add a bit of salad. The result is a plate of food enough to last me three days…
One of the best known images of Dutch people going on holiday, is that of the family with a caravan behind their car, going to France for three weeks, taking food for the whole period because all the products they’re used to at home are not available there.The bags with potatoes, tins with vegetables, cans of Heineken or Amstel beer, and of course the peanutbutter and chocolate sprinkles to put on their bread for breakfast. Whether the image is completely true, I leave up to you. At least I can say from my own experiences that most products mentioned before are available throughout the world. Heineken might be the most widely available Dutch export product, until the farthest corners of the world. Potatoes and vegetables are available everywhere, although sometimes in different varieties and not in as many kinds as the Dutch are used to. Peanutbutter seems to be a real American export product, usually available in two varieties, with or without peanut chunks. The only thing I found not to be not commonly available is chocolate sprinkles. They might be found in Anglo-Saxon countries, but only in small quantities, meant to decorate cakes and not to put on your bread.
Cambodia is a developing country with widespread poverty, many people live under or just above the povertyline and struggle to survive. In that sense, Phnom Penh is not exactly representative of Cambodia, in most places poverty is not apparent. The city houses a large group of middle class or rich (read: very rich!) Cambodians and there is a large community of development workers/expats. We live in such a neighbourhood with a lot of foreigners. So there are two fairly large supermarkets here, aimed at middle class Cambodians and foreigners. Especially the last sometimes gives an alienating effect when shopping. One moment you imagine yourself to be in a French supermarket, the next moment you expect to be in England, then in Japan or Thailand. It’s especially weird when I look at packages that contain “slagroom” of “spliterwten” (very Dutch indeed). The funny thing is that most of the products in the supermarket are not arranged by product group, as we would do, but by nationality of the expected user. French products with French products, English with English and so on (no concentration of Dutch products though, not enough Dutch people or not enough specifically Dutch products?). For us that arrangement sometimes is inconvenient as we like to cook from different kitchens, so quite often we end up searching the whole supermarket for the things we need. But we’ll find it as in these supermarkets (almost) everything is available, including chocolate sprinkles! Not in tiny packages, but a whole kilo at once (which is not even available in the Netherlands except in wholesale).
Fortunately we also have a local market here. There we can find a lot of lovely things we don’t have a clue about what they are. We’ve tried different kinds of new vegetables already, one turned out to be a small kind of pumpkin, another was probably water-spinach. Anyway they tasted very nice. For the non-vegetarians there are lots of exotic things to try as well. Up till now we left the fried insects for what they were, they reminded us a bit too much of cockroaches, but maybe we’ll find another variety to test.
They eat almost all parts of a pig here. Of course there are all kinds of pork, but you might try the ears, the legs, the nose, heart, liver or other intestines as well. Most kinds of intestines I’ve tried before and really don’t like, but I wouldn’t have a clue what an ear or nose would taste like. How do you prepare that anyway?
Chickens are sold including the head, to distinguish them from ducks, and of course you will be able to buy the legs, liver ánd the skin seperately. To prepare chicken broth?
What really is an improvement after the shortage in South Sudan is the availability of all kinds of fish, including squid and prawns. Cambodians like it and eat a lot of it, 80% of their animal proteine intake comes from fish. We don’t mind that at all! Mostly we don’t know which kind of fish it is (labels in the supermarket are in English, but then it mentions “fish keb” or something like that, which is not really helpful to us), but they taste great, so never mind the name. We’ll give it a try. There’s a lot to experiment with anyway. Somewhere in the next weeks we’ll have to find out how to prepare water lilies. Suggestions are welcome!