Since being here in the Gambia, cooking has taken on a whole new meaning. When we were still living in Pirang with Gary, Denise and Lori I cooked about twice a week, one vegetarian meal and one meal using either chicken or ground beef. Cooking a combination of vegetarian and meals with meat has been something I have wanted to implement in the way I cook ever since we got married, but once I began work and school it never really happened. But now, without the convenience of pre-packaged processed foods, McDonalds or restaurants in general I have had to become a bit more creative in my cooking.
We usually venture into Serekunda once a week to go grocery shopping for more American style groceries at some of the bigger supermarkets, but even with the convenience of these supermarkets we still have limitations as to what they carry, which in turn leads to even more creativity when trying to follow a recipe. For example, we can't get things sour cream and taco seasoning so we buy plain yogurt and have taco seasoning mailed over in packages. Also, now that Elias and I are in Brikama our refrigerator is the size of a dorm fridge so our freezer has limited space which means no quick and easy chicken nuggets that I loved so much in the States. Instead I buy my chicken in the market here in Brikama, and I make sure I get the frozen chicken. Spaghetti is usually meatless, cheese is rationed and I have even begun cooking with fish! If you know me very well, you know that I'm not a big fish fan, but they have some really good local fish here such as butter fish and lady fish. I usually buy the butter fish because it's cheaper, but still has very little, if any, fish flavor.
In Pirang we enjoyed using MCC's "More with Less" cookbook, but since I left mine at home I have found creative ways to alter some of the recipes in my Lowville Mennonite cookbook to make them work here. I have also found recipes online to be very helpful even though most of them have ingredients that I can't get here. I did find a chickpea sandwich recipe the other day that I really enjoyed and would have never used in the States since it would have taken "too much" time to make. Which leads me to another point, everything takes longer to make here! I decided to make "10-minute taco salad", which would have been ten minutes if I didn't have to shred the cheese, make the tortillas and bleach the vegetables. However, even though things take longer and are a bit inconvenient at time, I have really enjoyed trying out new ideas and finding ways to cook without meat and without other items along with trying recipes that Lori and Denise have used such as lentil burgers which aren't too bad.
I will admit, I do get cravings for a big mac or American pizza every now and then, but it's not the end of the world and it's certainly much healthier not having those options. Instead I can go to the bitiko (small shop) and get fresh baked bread or to the small restaurant at the end or the road and get a plate of Gambian rice and fish for 15 dalasi (less than $1) or even to the market for some fresh bananas or papayas. Of course at times a big mac sounds much more appetizing at times, but without that option I'm learning to once again step out of my box and hopefully by the end of my time here I will enjoy a plate of rice and fish (I'll write about Gambian cooking later).