What’s For Dinner?

by Rachel Pieh Jones on June 13, 2014

what's for dinner1

My husband once ate camel hump with the former president of Somaliland. He said it was gelatinous and flavorful. A big, jiggling pile of fat. Yummy.

Our first night in Somaliland we ate fried flying ants. Our boss plucked them out of the air and dropped them into a pan of melted butter. “Tastes like bacon,” he said. Welcome to the country.

In an effort to meet people and learn language, I drank unpasteurized camel’s milk in Somaliland. The ladies selling it said, “you can’t learn Somali if you don’t drink camel’s milk.” I don’t know if the milk helped me learn but I do know it helped clean out my intestines. I had to run home and barely made it to the bathroom before multiple explosions rocked my body.

At a wedding in Djibouti I received a delicacy of small bits of meat dried until beef-jerky-like and soaked in rancid butter, kept in a tightly sealed wooden jar buried in the ground for months and then smoked to add a burnt charcoal flavor. I’m sorry Somalis, I struggle to appreciate muuqmaaq.

My language helper invited me to a diiqo – the gift-giving party after a wedding, like a wedding shower. I watched her two mothers (her father has two wives and they all live together) prepare the gifts. Muuqmaaq placed in aluminum bowls and set inside xeedhos, woven baskets shaped like inverted hourglasses. The xeedhos were sealed with a mixture of dates and black pepper. The dates and pepper were mashed with the women’s bare hands until it was a sticky mush and then smeared all around the outside of the baskets, to be eaten later, when the gifts were opened.

All of this could hardly be as bad as what I prepared for my family our first years in Africa. I had no idea how to cook and lived in a country with few packaged or convenience foods and limited variety. This is a great way to lose weight. But losing so much weight is also a great way to lose wedding rings (true story).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’ve moved countries and now live in a former French colony where there is Cheese! Chicken! Eggs! Refrigeration! There is even bacon and wine. Still, we are short on peanut butter, non-chocolate cereal, and brown sugar but honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

djiboutiliciousI, oh master of the disgusting food so bad we still gag when we talk about it, actually self-published a cookbook, Djiboutilicious: celebrating culture and cooking in a country as hot as your oven. It is a compilation of recipes from men and women (and even a few kids) who have lived in the Horn of Africa for years and includes loads of photos, a few local recipes, and mainly Western food recipes using locally (in Djibouti) available ingredients. And I’m serious about that hot as your oven line, a few weeks ago my daughter and I baked cookies in our car. Just saying.

I’d like to give two copies of the book away (assuming my end-of-the-road Djibouti post office can find your end-of-the-road post office) and I’d also like to try some of your recipes. Leave a comment about the grossest thing you have ever eaten OR share a favorite recipe and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Djiboutilicious. I’ll randomly choose the winners June 20 and will inform them via email. I’m asking for your one-uppers here, so while you should probably bite your tongue at the next dinner party in your passport country, but no holds barred for this post!

What is the grossest thing you have eaten in your life overseas?

What is one of your favorite recipes?

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About Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel was raised in the Christian west and said, ‘you betcha’ and ate Jell-O salads, she now lives in the Muslim east, says ‘insha Allah,’ and eats samosas. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Family Fun, Running Times, and more, and she blogs for Brain Child and Babble.

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