Friday, September 14, 2012

The Tanzanian Plate

            The plate is very different in Tanzania. The food is different, yes, but so is the plate. You go down the line and you scoop and plop, scoop and plop, scoop and plop. The foods and flavors mix as the pile grows. The Tanzanian plate is three-dimensional. The chili sauce is on the side and sometimes you have to ask for it specially. “Very hot” they warn you – but it’s not really.
            There are meats in spices. All the meats are very chewy. Chicken is most expensive, so usually it is beef. Yesterday there was cow liver. The starches are soft and thick. They give your teeth a rest. My favorite starches are ka;ajkd (spiced rice) and sweet potatoes. The first day I ate my sweet potatoes plain and enjoyed the purity and specificity of the taste. Now I have learned no – you don’t eat plain. You scoop and stir and prod until each flavor has its place on the fork. Far better. This way the taste explodes at first, and then the sweet potatoes taste stronger for a moment until you feel the beef tough between your teeth and then the salt of cooked carrots on the back of your tongue. Today they are my favorite part, the cooked carrots. There is some other vegetable (kale I think?) that is stringy and bitter. But the carrots are good. They are soft and thin and sweet smelling.
            The fruits go only in a cup. Fresh mango juice, or passion fruit. Look to your right, you can see the tree. Look to your left, you can see the mama grinding with a curd. Mango juice is thick. Passion fruit medium. Rosella is thin and extra sweet. That one is made from a flower.
            The Tanzanian plate must be clean at the end of the meal. You eat every scrap, you drink the last drop. Your stomach feels like it will burst because the three-dimensional pile that you fearlessly stationed to your plate now challenges its walls.
            You wash your hands from a spigot after. The water is warm – this is how you know it is clean. Usually there is a napkin to dry them with. That is the only thing you leave on the plate, a napkin. It was a good meal if the napkin is orangy-brown and crinkled into a little ball by the time you are done.

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