Iteration III

Grilled Fish with Rice

October 28, 2007

The evening before you want to make grilled fish with rice, plan to pick up a meal at Saf Sap down the street. Don’t forget to bring a tupperware. You can pick up your girlfriend’s scooter at the end of the alley if you don’t feel like walking. She left it there earlier in the afternoon to avoid driving though the sand. If the neighbor kids are sitting on it and making “zoom zoom!” noises, say hello. They will respond at eight hundred words per minute in a number of languages you do not speak.

While riding the scooter, watch out for patches of sand in the street. It moves in drifts, and can be several inches deep in a place where it was clear the day before. Also keep your eyes on the cabs, which might stop at any time. Stand up when you go over the speed bump so you don’t scrape the bottom of the scooter.

When you get to Saf Sap, make your way to the back room and say salam aleikum. Shake hands with everyone. Do your best to be polite, though you will not understand anything anyone says. If you are feeling brave, attempt to ask what dishes are being served. (It is not as difficult as it sounds. The choice is usually between yassa and maffe, and it always includes at least one of them.) Otherwise you can peek over at the steaming pots next to the giant bowl of rice. The dark red-brown stew is maffe, and the lighter one with onions is yassa. Ask for three portions of yassa. Don’t be shy to hold up three fingers if they don’t understand you at first. That will be enough for dinner, and you will have leftovers of rice for the fish the next day. Pay 900FCFA and tell everyone you will see them tomorrow, even if you do not expect to see them tomorrow.

The following morning, plan an outing to the big store. This will be much more exciting than you imagine it will be. It is the big store! You have heard stories about the big store, but neither you nor your girlfriend has been there. It is a place of legend. You have heard that it even has multiple brands of olive oil, but you don’t believe everything you hear.

At the big store, marvel at the twelve full isles stocked with groceries and household items from Europe and America. Pots and pans! Chocolate! Smoked salmon! Try not to be shocked when you see coke zero on the shelf. Try not to choke when you see the price of the coke zero on the shelf. When the lights flicker, stop. The power is about to go and you don’t want to run into anything in the dark. The backup generator will kick in after a few seconds.

When your girlfriend points out that they have your favorite Belgian waffles, the ones you used to get in Strasbourg but had not been able to find in over a year in the US, try not to cry in public. It is not a manly reaction to waffles. Put at least three packages in the cart.

Eventually make your way to the seafood counter. It should be your last stop, because marveling at the rest of the store will take at least an hour. Spend a minute puzzling at the price signs, which display the numbers in XXxx format, just like they use in European and American supermarkets to distinguish the decimal portion of the price, but which is very confusing in a currency that does not use fractional units. Are the big numbers the thousands? Is it meant to be read straight across? Will the person behind the counter understand if you try to ask? Eventually decide that it must be meant to be read straight across, and buy some dorade. Get two per person. You can always save leftovers for lunch the next day.

That last thing you need to do before you get home is stop by the charcoal man and get some charcoal for the grill. One scoop is enough, but get two so you don’t have to go out again the next time you want to grill. Stop at the boutique to get a couple bananas as well. You can have them for dessert.

While the charcoal is starting, clean and scale the fish in the kitchen sink. Put all the nasty stuff in the blue bucket under the counter for carrying down to the sea after dinner. Rub each fish with olive oil, and season inside and out with salt, pepper, lemon grass, dill, and paprika. Place a slice of lime in the belly of each fish. Cut a few onions into thick rounds for grilling.

Heat the leftover rice from Saf Sap along with any remaining yassa sauce on the propane burner and ask your girlfriend to keep an eye on it while you grill the fish. They are small, and the lump charcoal burns very hot. A minute a side should do the trick. The onions might take a minute longer, but if you put them on first and take them off last the timing will be about perfect. When it is time to turn things, remember that you do not own a spatula in this country. Use two forks. You will do fine. Just move quickly, or you will burn the hair off your knuckles.

Serve the fish and onions over the rice. If you have a cold beer in the fridge, this would be the time to get it. Toss two bananas in the coals with the peels still on and sit down to enjoy an awesome dinner.

When you have carefully pulled the last of the meat from the bones, sit back contentedly in your chair. Look across the table at your beautiful girlfriend. Life is good. When you smell something sweet, fetch the now-blackened bananas from the coals and peel them to reveal the perfectly baked fruit inside.