Arts & CultureFood

Cooking & Culture: Plentiful produce and earthy eats in Cameroon

Patrick Moneyang, a visiting lecturer and interim second-year French supervisor at the University of Oregon, was surprised to find that much of the food he ate growing up in central Africa would no longer be avaliable when he moved to the United States.

He comes from Ebolowa, Cameroon, where the produce is plentiful and unmatched in other countries.

“Growing up, I was eating vegetables like 90 percent of the time,” said Moneyang. “And mostly vegetables we don’t have here.”

Consequently, he couldn’t name most of the vegetables he ate in Cameroon because it doesn’t translate into English at all; these vegetables simply don’t exist in our language. However, he did mention that many of these vegetables were leafy greens.

One example is the cassava, a root vegetable that is often used in Mexican cooking (called yuca in Spanish). In Cameroon, the plant’s leaves are a main food staple. Yams, plantains and peanuts are other common foods.

The fruit eaten in Cameroon, though identifiable by Americans, is of “no comparison” to the equivalent fruit we eat in the U.S., says Moneyang.

“I went back to Cameroon with a friend from the U.S., and he tried pineapple there and said, ‘When I go back (to the U.S.), I will no longer eat pineapple. This is pineapple,'” said Moneyang.

Because many farmers in Cameroon cannot afford to treat their produce with chemicals, they grow their food in a simple, basic way.

“We always ate organic – and we didn’t even know,” said Moneyang.

Much like the country itself, Cameroonian cuisine is outstandingly diverse and depends completely on where you live and your income level. In the large cosmopolitan cities, you’ll see all kinds of international and imported foods including expensive beef and fish. In contrast, those living in poverty will likely eat whatever is available to hunt in the wild.

“Bush meat,” as they call it, could be anything from porcupines to snakes to squirrels. Likewise, Cameroonians in general have been known to eat all kinds foods that Americans might find unusual – caterpillars, elephants, snails and dogs are all rather common and acceptable meat to eat in Cameroon.

It’s also notable that the customs of how food gets from plate to mouth vary between regions and households. It’s seen as traditional in Cameroon to eat with your hands, especially while eating more traditional meals. Though the majority of people in the country today eat with forks and spoons, it’s expected that guests will eat with their hands, out of respect, if that is the tradition of the household they are visiting.

To get a taste of this earthy cuisine, try Moneyang’s favorite recipe for Cameroonian peanut soup. Peanut butter and yams, which are commonly grown and eaten in Cameroon, make this soup rich and creamy.

Cameroonian Peanut Soup (Adapted from Dining for Women)

What you’ll need:

3 cups chicken broth or chicken stock

1 onion, minced

1 small sweet green pepper, minced

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 chili pepper, minced

1 carrot, chopped fine

2 tomatoes, chopped

2 yams, peeled and cut into chunks (optional)

1 cup natural unsweetened peanut butter

salt, black pepper and red pepper (to taste)

What to do:

Combine all ingredients except the peanut butter. Simmer over medium heat until everything is tender. Reduce heat to a simmer, then add the peanut butter and simmer for a few minutes more. Stir often until the soup reaches a thick and smooth consistency.

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Lindsay McWilliams

Lindsay McWilliams