I know it’s important to follow local customs in any country. But in my travels I’ve encountered several moments of injudicious behavior, especially during mealtimes. I loathe (yes, that’s more than hate) eating with a million utensils surrounding me. I know it’s somewhat practical but I can’t stand having too many decisions calling out to me when it was difficult enough to decide on what to eat. During my honeymoon, I found myself stressed out during mealtimes because every time I would get just one fork to eat with and gently place the others aside, the waiter would come by and rearrange them to annoy the living hunger out of me. That’s why I’m so thankful to be in a country where no utensils are needed. I love eating with my hands. Almost all authentic Mexican-American food is eaten best by ten digits. Tacos, chalupas, gorditas, chips and salsa, burritos, etc. Here in Togo it’s no different. Fufu, pate, rice and beans, fried plantains, bananas (I’ve seen people eat these with a spoon, and it wasn’t even on a salad!) But, aside from the proper use of utensils or the right-hand, what do you do when you’ve eaten something your palate, tongue, and teeth disagree with? It’s only a second. It doesn’t take long to realize that you’ve eaten what your eyes warned wouldn’t be tasty but your mind adviced to be appropriate. After all, you can’t really say you don’t like it if you haven’t tried it. Well, I will advise you to give it a try, but once is enough. Except here in Togo, it’s pretty much the same meals everyday at every household. Sure, the sauces may be a bit different, but the fish is still intact and the chicken just doesn’t have enough meat to suck on.
Recently, we were invited over to a friend’s house who welcomed us as family. Someone always brings out water which we have to respectfully decline since it’s not filtered. Then we wait. Cooking with charcoal takes quite some time. But, we had a snack so we can wait. When the food is ready, they invite us in. The bring two enormous plates of food. One contains the pate, the other the sauce (with the fish. . . still intact.) I serve Tristan his plate, then mine giving us equal amounts of food which they never think is enough. After we pray they bring out what is perhaps the best invention in the world. No, not a fork. COCA COLA. Yes, this beverage has saved me more times than water in my travels (I obviously haven’t been stranded in any desert.) Coke cancels out the taste of bad food, is almost always served cold, and the bubbles play a little melody as they stream down. It’s been with me in almost all my “first” food adventures: when I first had sushi (which I now love); when I ate an unidentified piece of meat in Ghana; in Egypt eating street-food; in Brazil eating couscous (which I still don’t like); and in Greece when I ate a mound of mayo thinking it was ice cream. Coke has been there. Thank you Coca Cola and all it’s employees. Forget the embargo sanctions imposed to you. Travel well.
I must say, though, that I wasn’t in dire need of a coke this time around. The food was delicious and despite me reaching into my mouth to gather the tens of fish bones stuck in between my teeth and tongue, the meal and the company were very delightful. And the best part, I never had to reach for a fork.