I thought it would be good to begin a series of posts describing life here in Madagascar. I will begin with the central part of any culture: the food. I am lucky enough to have arranged to eat every meal with the family that lives downstairs. Janet, the mother is a wonderful Malagasy cook, and what might be lacking in portion size is made up for in tastiness. What is on the menu?
Vary, Vary, Vary, Vary and more Vary. If you do not like Vary, or rice, you will not last long here in Madagascar. Sometimes it is eaten for breakfast, and always with lunch and dinner. It forms a large bed on which you eat the rest of your food. And you do not just take a little rice. You fill your you baola (I bet you can figure that word out) with vary because you will not be eating much else. If you do not fill up on vary you will go to bed hungry (unless you have a hidden jar of Nutella in your room).
What goes on the Vary? The food here in Toliara is cooked outside over coals in a pot. Some type of vegetable is stewed together with a little hena such as pork or beef for flavoring. What results usually is similar to Turnip greens, although the vegetable can be something like french green beans, onions, or their favorite anana which is very much like spinach. Sometimes, Janet also makes a salad of chopped tomatoes and onions which is the best! Take a little of the stew, take a little of the salad, put it on your vary and viola! Lunch and dinner.
The first day, I dug into my meal with my fork. But no, you do not use your forsety here like you would back in America. The fork is mainly for getting the food into your sotro, or spoon. In a culture where you are almost always eating vary and stew, yes, a sotro makes much more sense than a fork.
One thing I was delighted to discover is that Malagasy people love mofo. Yes, French bread is very popular here, and can be found at any corner stand. We eat mofo every morning with some dite and kafe to drink (although the cafe is a little strong for my tastes, so I stick with the tea).
A few nights ago, Janet had a lovely surprise waiting for me. She had made Pizza! It was one of the best foreign pizzas I have had, and it was a wonderful gesture, especially since the rest of the family did not seem enthusiastic about the lack of vary that dinner.
Meals are one of my favorite times of the day. Janet and her husband Pierre sit down in their cramped kitchen with me and Holy, the sweet Malagasy lady who shares the other half of my upstairs apartment (who speaks english!) Imagine a tiny table with two tiny benches squeezed into a room with a pantry, a kitchen counter, an oven, and a bunk bed–all of this in a space about the size of a king sized bed. That is a picture of what our meals are like, and they are great! What a gift that God made us to eat regularly. It’s like he was saying, sit down, rest, and enjoy wonderful food with wonderful people, and do this three times a day!