There is a market just a couple of blocks down the busy road from where we are living that is lined with stalls run by women. They sell small tomatoes carefully aranged in pyramids that go for 40 cents, fried fish ranging in size from sardines to 1/2 pound, fresh and ground spices, and several root vegetables. We have been cooking our meals, but when in a pinch we have resorted to a quick meal along the road- everything fried in a large pot of oil heated by charcoal- yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, plain dough, a bean mixture...
We share our roof top kitchen (which is great for watching street soccer games and impending storms from) with two others living in the building. Edmond from Benin is the assistant to the President of the NGO that runs the place, and Francia is a student of journalism from Gabon. We have some pretty funny exchanges with the two of them as we often prepare and eat dinner together. Most recently I made guacamole with a huge avocado that cost some 30 or 40 cents and tiny limes that were potent- Francia had never seen such a thing and timidly tried it atop some fried potatoes (the closest to corn chips I could think of). Together we made a tomato sauce with those little tomatoes cooked down with onion, ginger, and garlic. We added smoked fish to the sauce and had it atop coucous.
We often eat at Leopold and Leontine's. There is always a starch, either pasta, rice, or more likely pate (water boiled with corn flour, resulting in a solid soft textured mass that is rather tasteless, but once had a sour taste). The sauce always makes up for the pate's lack of taste as it is bound to be spicey. They use a large rock slab and a second rectangular rock as a mortar and pestel- mashing up tomatoes, ginger, garlic, onion, and peppers into a smooth mixture. We have had chicken a couple of times, but normally the protein has been a boiled egg, fish, crab, or shrimp. We have both been brave by our standards, eating whole tiny fried fish-face, eyeball, tail and all.
But more than once I think we have disappointed our friends because we didnt eat the skin or fat of the fish/chicken/lamb, leaving behind bones that they would consider still full of "meat." Once at a restaurant in Porto Novo we didnt exactly recognize the part of the meat we had been served, and though the peanuty sauce was tastey, try as we did, we couldnt manage to clean our bones the way Leopold did.
After lunch one day Leontine was chomping down on this little clump of gray, which I then realized was clay. She had a little plastic bag full of hard clumps of clay that she had bought around the corner- apparently lots of women here eat clay as a supposed source of calcium. She explained that sometimes she just really craves it, which makes me wonder if its a sign of an iron deficiency? I havent seen them eat any red meet and Im not sure what else in her diet may give her the necessary iron.
Oh- and water! We have been drinking bottled water, avoiding directly drinking the tap water, though we do cook and wash with it. We thought that we had found a really cheap solution to our water drinking and bought some 20 liters of water for less than a dollar- .5 liter bags of water thats locals drink from by biting off a corner and sucking the water out. Turns out its nothing more than tap water, just packaged. Instead I used it to shower with when the water was out one evening.