They say that your sense of smell is your strongest sense. Right now my nose is conjuring up some very distant memories…
Every Thursday when I walked home from school for lunch, my nose was met with the intoxicating smell of onions, tomatoes, palm oil, rice, beans, peanut sauce, plantains, and sombe cooking in the kitchen. It was African Meal day at the Watt home! I looooved Thursdays. Growing up in the middle of Africa had many perks. As a little kid, those perks mostly included food items and anything related to playing. Mango trees, banana trees, the concrete swimming pool, the grassy hills I slid down in cardboard boxes, the dirt paths where I rode my bike or walked to friends’ houses.
African food was one such bliss. I didn’t grow up on Mac n’ cheese and hotdogs or a weekly trip to McDonalds or King Burger (as my son likes to call it). No, I grew up on rice, beans, peanut sauce, green stuff called sombe, sweet potatoes, plantains, and playdough-like goop called bugali. Fresh pineapple, fresh mangoes, home-made everything: from ketchup to mayonaise. Once in a blue moon my sister would make donuts for us. Instead of driving up to Double D, she worked for hours in the kitchen only to have her delicious creations eaten up in mere minutes. One time we even made a “real Burger King meal”… it took all day! (When I say “we”, I mean my mom.) The only fast food part about it was the fact that it got eaten in a jiffy!
Another thing I remember doing when I was a kid, growing up in the Congo, was learning how to cook over a babula. It was basically a little round charcoal grill that sat on the ground. One would sit on a rock, or just squat beside it, and cook over the babula. I LOVED to do this. I would make my own African food, and pound my own sombe, and fry my own plantains. It tasted so divine. A bowl of goldfish or a granola bar pales in comparison.
So this Thursday, in a little city in Pennsylvania, it smells like the Northeast corner of Congo.