Category Archives: 2012-08-27 to 2012-09-09 – Food from Foreign Climes
“Heh, I am Daniel; speak English alright”
It was a humid 37 degrees; a cool day in the jungle the locals tell me; and I was hungry. After nothing but airline food and snacks for two days the sizzling white meat on Daniel’s kebabs looked delicious. It was my first day in central Africa and I had been warned against eating meat from roadside stalls but Daniel’s bulking figure looked friendly enough so I had a closer look at his wares while we fuelled the vehicles.
“So it’s chicken huh, smells good!”
“Yes, yes, very good; best spices”
“So it’s chicken, yes?”
“Yes, no chicken, good meat, Colo”
He held his large hands about two feet apart and indicated a humped back, “Colo, no English, like Hedgehog, but bigger, you know Colo?”
“Porcupine, you mean”, I say while failing desperately to mime sharp quills.
“Ah! Porcupine, no monkey – meat good, make you strong”
The meat was sweet and moist, fresh off the coals – a perfect unexpected snack on the side of a dirt road deep in the jungle. I stopped at Daniel’s stall every week for the three months I worked there and his ready smile and juicy jungle kebabs never failed to please me. It was only on the day I was leaving for good, after I’d finished my last kebab, that I discovered the truth.
“I’m going to miss your kebabs, Daniel – no porcupine in my country”
“Hey brother, I mean to tell you, my wife she speaks better English and she tell me – word for Colo not porcupine, Colo means Cane Rat”
Well, no sense in pussy-footing around: I might as well dive right in.
Any second now.
Another hotel guest bustles out past me, clipping my shoulder as they do so, forcing me out into the street.
Well, that did it I guess. I’m outside.
I breath deep to pull in the smells of the market. Some strong smell makes me cough and splutter, despite the filters on my nasal unit. Phew. Sort of spicy and cold and salty all at the same time. I tweak the settings, hoping not to embarrass myself.
Let’s see if this language module works as advertised.
Feeling a bit more brave, I stride up to the very first street food stall I see.
“Good morning!” I proclaim.
“Morning,” the vendor (he, she, ve? I can never remember what Graxians prefer.) replies, raising a spiky eyebrow. “What can I do for you, human?”
“Two of… those, please” I say, pointing at a puddle of something vaguely tasty-looking off to one side in a strangely decorated container.
“That,” the vendor says, picking up and sharpening his knife, “is my third-born brood. I’m going to have to take an arm from you for that insult.”
The colour drains from my face and my life flashes before my eyes. So young. I’m so young. I had so much to see.
“Oh, your face,” the vendor chuckles. “You lot are such easy targets.” He puts down the knife and picks up a plate. “What do they teach in your xenobiology classes these days?” He shakes his head, spoons a few tendrils on to the plate, and passes it to me. “That’s 35, please, buddy.”
I snap back from my frozen state and scan the credits over to him.
“Um,” gulp, “thanks.”
I pick up a piece and turn it around, inspecting it.
The Graxian makes an eating motion, suggesting I do it down-in-one. What is it they say: travel broadens the mind and loosens the bowels?
Any second now.