Sunday, November 14, 2010

FuFu Carbonate

One of the more exciting aspects of having an Oliver Wyman consultant come work with CCHIPs for a week was that it gave me an excuse to be a little more touristy than usual. I quickly jumped into the position of tour guide – and quickly regretted it when she began asking so many questions that I couldn’t answer. (“What that thing he’s carrying?” “What does that sign say?” “What souvenirs should I buy to bring home?” etc.) I suddenly felt like a very inadequate tour guide.
This inadequacy continued even when I took her to one of my favorite hang outs (Gorillas Hotel, which I personally think has the best internet and definitely has the best service) – I laid down my instructions at the beginning: “I get the tomato soup and salad every time because the croutons in the soup are amazing; Zack always goes for the half chicken; and you cannot go wrong with the fries. They have homemade pili pili sauce that is out of this world, so as long as you order something that you can put the sauce on, you’re golden.”
These instructions proved to not be good enough; she was soon questioning every item on the menu. I, embarrassingly, could not answer any of her questions. I had never even really looked at the menu because I order the same thing every time.
So she asked the waitress when she returned: “What is Fu Fu carbonate?”
“Oh…I am sorry…my English is not very good. But I can explain how it is made? First they take the brains of mice and then they put it in boiling water –“
“I’m sorry – did you just say brains of mice?”
“Yes – they take them and put them in boiling water. And then they mash it together –“
Christina ordered the half chicken.
I sat in amazement through this encounter. I had never ever heard of mice being served anywhere in Rwanda. In fact, goat is the strangest thing I’ve come across – and that’s now an unoriginal staple. I was in disbelief that I had not known my favorite hotel served mice brains. But, given that I’ve eaten mice before, and that I was the guide, I just put on my best “that’s Africa” face and laughed it off.
But just to confirm, I texted Consolate: “What is FuFu Carbonate?”
Response: “I don’t know, but fufu is made from cassava flour.”
This didn’t sound like anything that would be associated with mouse brains. Now I was suspicious, but also unwilling to ruin my hard-guy reputation by asking the five-lingual and ever-present owner for a translation. (We frequent the same bars: can’t ruin the friendship by introducing a server-customer relationship.)
Mmm -- definitely not FuFu Carbonate. (Although that is goat on the left.)

After speculating for our whole meal how cassava flour could be cooked with mouse brains, Christina called the waitress over again: “I’m really sorry, but can you explain again how FuFu Carbonate is made?”
She took a deep, exasperated breath: “Well first they take the brains of mice –“
“And how do they do that? How do they get the brains of the mice?”
“They just cut it. And then they mash them together.”
“They mash together the mice brains?”
“Yes and then they put the brains in boiling water.”
“Did you just say grains?”
“Like grains, not brains? Like GRAINS OF RICE – not BRAINS OF MICE?”
Our waitress just looked at us, confused, and definitely not understanding the intricate but significant differences between the two phrases. When I returned home and talked to Consolate in more detail, we did indeed determine that fufu is a mixture of cassava flour and maize (“grains of rice”) – jury’s still out on the carbonate part.

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