Freetown, Baby!

Merecin Man by jc2010sl
September 23, 2010, 7:36 am
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The corridors of the Youyi building (where the Ministry of Health is based) are frequently peopled by hawkers and pedlars of various sorts. Some are itinerant salesman, knocking on your door trying to sell chewing gum or mobile phone credit. Others pick a choice spot, usually on a staircase, and ply their wares from a seated position. “Roast meat” that is, kebab, is a favourite, and I recently discovered a purveyor of the best rice akara I’ve tasted. The ubiquitous rip-off DVD seller is also in evidence, although the hits are Nollywood rather than Hollywood. I thought I’d seen all that Youyi had to offer.

Yesterday though I came across a new trader – the Merecin, or as we’d have it in English, the Medicine Man. He was doling out some sticky fluorescent yellow liquid to a man by his basket. The patient(?) shuddered momentarily and blinked. “What’s that for?” I asked. “Ulcers, headaches – try some.” I had a sniff – it was sweet and strongly alcoholic smelling. “What else do you have?” He proceeded to show me a range of herbs, liquids and powders that he claimed could heal just about any ailment. I was particularly intrigued by one syrup that could cure both high and low blood pressure. “Really?” I asked. “Oh yes” he said, quite offended.

“What does the Ministry of Health think about this?” I asked. “Oh, I’m licensed by the Pharmacy Board” he said. Somehow I wasn’t convinced and decided to give his elixirs a miss.



Bushmeat by jc2010sl
July 9, 2010, 12:46 pm
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Being stuck in the clotting traffic on the Kissy Road has its upsides. You’re in a perfect spot to see the unusual wares on display in the East End. There are barely any shops to speak of in Freetown, so almost everything is sold on the street. Sometimes quite literally on the street.

I’d not eaten any lunch and it was well into the afternoon, so I got out of the car and had a little stroll to see what street food was on offer. I saw some fairly unappetising foodstuffs – fish balls smothered in a chilli sauce, and something that looked like grilled aubergine. I asked how much it cost, and almost as an afterthought what it was. “Giant snail” came the reply. I would have tried it upcountry, but I’ve seen the filth that a Freetown snail slides through.

My encounter with Bushmeat was pretty vanilla though compared to some of the things on offer. Despite the prohibitions, a particular delicacy upcountry is chimp. I recently asked a colleague what he’d been up to at the weekend and he said he’d been upcountry where someone had given him a chimp. Somewhat taken aback I asked him what for, hoping somehow I wouldn’t get the answer I expected.  “Very tasty” he said, patting his stomach.

The moral; if you’re squeamish or concerned about upholding the law it’s a good idea to ask before you eat.

Poyo by jc2010sl
May 11, 2010, 11:29 pm
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I thought I had  already tasted the most revolting concontion available in Sierra Leone. I was wrong.

The other day I met a friend of a friend, a palm oil entrepreneur, at dinner. He had just come back from his plantation with him a bottle of Poyo – that is palm wine. It’s essentially sap tapped directly from a palm tree into a plastic drum and left to ferment “on the tree”. It’s then decanted into re-used plastic bottles for “retail” and served up as quickly as possible before it explodes.

The bubbles when you pour the stuff out are reminiscent of champagne, but there the similarities end. It truly is a foul drink – it smells like a combination of vomit and stale eggs and tastes only marginally better. It lingers long in the mouth, so that whatever you eat or drink for the next couple of hours is clouded by the repugnant taste.

My Dad often describes cheap wine as “rectified wood alcohol”. Having drunk non-rectified wood alcohol the phrase has a new resonance for me.

Lets lunch by jc2010sl
February 26, 2010, 12:16 pm
Filed under: food - cooking | Tags: , , ,

It’s never happened before. I’m usually a pretty adventurous eater. But this afternoon I just couldn’t bear even a second mouthful of my lunch. The offending dish? “Crain crain with foo foo.” Foo foo is cassava root pounded and then mixed with water to form a slightly sour, almost translucent gelatinous globule. It looks unappetising and it tastes pretty unpleasant too. Crain crain is the sauce that comes with – a green, slimy affair (I think there is Okra in the mixture) with small flakes of dried fish and chunks of unidentified meat. The whole thing is fried up in copious quantities of palm oil, which leaves your lips orange.
Without doubt this is the most unappetising dish I’ve ever come across in terms of the appearance, texture and taste. One to avoid.