One of my earliest memories of television is the theme show to the program “Cheers.” To this day I have not watched a single episode nor do I have any idea of what the basis of the actual show is (I’m told it’s a series about a group of friends who hang out at a bar called Cheers? I’m assuming this was an original concept back then….) The only real memory about the show that has always stayed with me is the line “where everybody knows your name…” I’ve always wanted to have a “place” like that whether it was a bar, a subway sandwich shop, or a cafeteria lunch line; basically just somewhere where I could go and the people running the establishment would greet me and say “Hey Ryan, the usual for ya’ today? Have a seat in your normal spot and Mary will be right with ya!” Since I’m not much of a drinker, playing out this fantasy at an actual bar was out of the question, and in my attempts to fool the Subway free sandwich redemption program I frequented a many different Subway establishments growing up, thus not allowing anyone to “know my name” too well. I guess the closest I came to this dream of mine was the cafeteria lunch line in school. In all honesty, my preferential treatment by the usually Hispanic lunch ladies was partly because of my lame attempts at practicing Spanish with them and partly due to the fact that I would purposefully bat my long eye lashes to try and get a bigger portion. Needless to say, they never really knew my name.
This all changed when I arrived in Togo. Now for the most part, nobody knows my name here and for all they know it could actually be “Anasara, Yovo Yovo,” the phrase/song that I am perpetually serenaded/harassed with every time I leave my house. But for the select few that I’ve established relationships with, I am known as Omide, which is also my actual Iranian middle name. Since I looked vaguely middle-eastern to people upon arrival at post in Togo, and the fact that the vast majority of people that live in my town are Muslim, everyone just assumed I already had a Muslim name. It worked out well for me, I guess, not having to take on another name, but everywhere I go now (for the most part) people call out my real name, Omide.
One of my favorite places to go in my city/giant village is a restaurant called Fou Fou Bar Bon Coin.
They have THE best Fou Fou I’ve ever had in Togo and they make a variety of different sauces daily to accompany this dish. Now I’m sure you’re all wondering what Fou Fou is, but worry not as I will explain. The thing I like most about Bar Bon Coin, however, is not just the FouFou, but the fact that every time I enter the restaurant I’m greeted in local language by a chorus of women who run the establishment – and they ALL know my name!
After the obligatory salutations in Kotokoli, the local language in my town, I take my usual seat on the terrace next to the hand-washing station (in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t teach them how to build this handwashing station, but I do preach the benefits of handwashing at every chance that I get being the good health volunteer that I am….) The same “mahmahs” who prepare the food are also the waitresses and they know exactly what to bring me without me even having to ask! Usually I just say “Comme d’habitude s’il vous plaît,” which is French for “the usual, please.” I always order: 200CFA of Foufou, which is basically boiled ingame pounded into oblivion until it reaches the consistency somewhere in between mashed potatoes and pizza dough, 200CFA of sesame/tomato/palm oil sauce with chunks of fried wagash, a local cheese made from cow’s milk by a nomadic tribe called the Fulani or Puhl. All this along with my refreshing “Sport Actif” (think a cross between the soda Squirt and Fresca) comes out to around 700CFA (~ 1.25 USD.) It’s the best lunch deal in town and I take advantage of it as often as I can. When I “crave” things now, this is what I crave. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration as I would go to probably any length for a turkey sandwich, but you get the picture.
|I've seen up to five women pounding foufou at the same time. The sound it makes is rhythmic and almost soothing.|
|There are numerous sauces and things that one puts in their respective sauces. Leafs, powders, meat chunks, wagash, etc. M sauce lady know exactly how much pepper powder I like in my sauce. :)|
|This is what pounded igname looks like. It doesn't really taste like anything, but is used to pick up the sauce with your hands.|
|The final result! Dipping the fufu in the sauce using your hands and then swallowing whole is the only way to do it, apparently. I have to chew my foufou. Togolese people think I'm weird.|
|If I had to describe wagash I'd say it's a cross between mozerella and tofu. It's painted with a red dye on the outside to make it last longer.|
My friend Moctar and I met here for lunch today to catch up since it had been practically all summer that we hadn’t seen each other. Even he remarked at how all of the women knew who I was – a fact that I was quite proud of. Hooray for cultural integration and for finally finding a place in this world where “someone knows my name!” Who knew I’d have to come to Togo to find it.
|Moctar and I. He was originally a work homologue/good friend at post, but now he works for the Peace Corps!|
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. It’s just another little part of my life here that I wanted to share with loved ones at home. And don’t worry, I’m learning how to make this dish so I can prepare it for you all at home.
|Poundin' foufou, like a boss.|