When you read the title “Cooking in Cameroon” you probably thought that this would be a blog post about different Cameroonian foods that I have had the opportunity to try while being here, but that’s not quite the approach I’m going to take. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t cook. For example, last year when I moved off-campus, I had to call my boyfriend and have him talk me through scrambling eggs—I really do not cook. In missionary life, it is possible to get away with not cooking by hiring a cook, but it’s definitely not as simple as just going to the closest drive-through and picking up a meal for the family.
One of my goals while being out here was to learn to be able to cook at least a little bit and in some ways, this is the perfect place to try to do that. Cooking isn’t something that relaxes me, so making it simple and easy is really important to me. We’re living with limited means out here. We have a gas stove and oven, so we can’t just frivolously bake all the time and there are no microwaves to easily heat something up. This means that cooking can take way longer than it might in the United States. That’s not even taking into consideration all the work that goes into bleaching fruit and vegetables, ensuring you have clean water, grinding and canning meat, and so on. Since so many meals take so long to cook, most missionaries try to find simple and easy dishes that they can make that still taste good and are satisfying.
The woman I lived with for my last stretch of time, Reda, took me seriously when I said I wanted to learn how to cook and did a great job at holding me accountable. Mostly all of the vegetables we got were fresh from the market, so that meant that there was also lots of chopping of vegetables to be done. I remember one evening, sitting in my room journaling, when Reda came in and said, “Tonight you’re going to practice chopping vegetables.” Perfect. I am very willing to help chop things, but I always have felt bad because I probably do it at about half speed than most other people. That night, we worked to make stir-fry. I chopped all the vegetables, Reda recommending which knife to use and the best approach to cut things. She also talked to me about different options for the meal—such as, if you don’t have meat, just fry an egg (which I know how to do!) and then cut it into strips so you still have protein in your meal. Stir-fry definitely became a meal that I could now bring back to the States with me. It’s a meal that allows a lot of options and variety based on what’s available and other than the chopping it doesn’t take very long! It was also a way for me to work on basic kitchen skills, like chopping.
My other meal that is definitely going to become a go-to in the States is baked oatmeal. If you have never had baked oatmeal, it’s pretty much just what it sounds like—you take oats and then put in some sugar and milk and then bake it. And it’s absolutely delicious. When I made it at Reda’s, I also made some pumpkin custard (which goes back to the whole utilizing the oven when you’re going to have it on). It was so simple to make. Reda recommended using half brown sugar, half white sugar just because brown sugar isn’t the easiest to get out where we are, but that’s also a good tip for if you’re ever running low on brown sugar at home! Probably my favorite part about baked oatmeal is how well it keeps. You can just save it in the refrigerator and pull it out to have with milk as breakfast or even an afternoon snack. This is really important for me because right now I’m just cooking for myself, so I want to make sure the recipes I’m learning either keep well or can be easily made in small portions. But at the same time, it can feed a lot of people if you want to serve the whole pan at once to guests. HIGHLY recommend!
So this blog post may not have been on Cameroonian food, but it definitely touches on some of the differences in cooking in the United States versus cooking where resources are more limited. I’ve learned about how to find meals that are adaptable, simple, and keep well. I think finding foods that keep well has also become more important here because food waste is put into perspective. Our neighbors often spend nights where they don’t have enough food to feed their family, so I want to make sure what I’m making will last and be nutritious.
I’ve learned that practice makes perfect (especially when chopping vegetables), cooking can actually be enjoyable, and it’s all about finding simple ingredients to make delicious food!