Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am interested in food, clearly, but am no foodie, and would like to underscore my purpose here. I'm not writing a restaurant guide to Juba, though 'reviews' of sorts will find their way into the writing. Nor am I writing a cookbook, though many recipes will follow.

Food is the connective tissue that pervades every level of life. As such I write to recognize the power I wield as an omnivore, and the power food itself has as prism. Each aspect speaks of the whole, so, since I'm not a political scientist, an expert on Sudan, or sage diplomat, I have chosen food as a medium to understand, as best I can in the short time I am here, the culture and context of southern Sudan.

There's no way I could grasp even a sliver of what's happening here by eating out at international restaurants every night. So I plan to cook at home with food from the PX
and local greenmarkets, look into culinary traditions of southern Sudan with the help of hosts and guides, and maybe even scratch the surface of some of the bigger questions, like how have decades of food aid affected the country, and why is nearly all of southern Sudan's food imported?

I depend on readers to help me answer these questions, and to raise others that illuminate the fullness and complexity of life here. Please write with your ideas, I am grateful for your involvement.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Muffins Must Wait

I thought I'd be making muffins today, but my housemate Maty and I came across a great big squash in the market this morning, as well as fresh ginger root and a few other goodies, so her suggestion of soup when we got home seemed a good one.

Pumpkin Coconut soup was a favorite during Urban Spring days, so I worked off that recipe to come up with a very satisfying twist. I used local honey from Maridi --,29.501038&spn=0.266806,0.44323&t=h&z=12&msid=101640016784182496265.00046d65c24db5d25c38b,

and a couple green chilis to fill out and balance. The results were most pleasing...

Squash Ginger Soup – Sudan Style
Serves 8

½ medium pumpkin (this one was green with a very meaty flesh like kobocha but not as sweet)
4 small red onions (note these onions are not like the red onions I'm used to in Brooklyn - I cried a river! And it wasn't MJ or Iran pulling the tears this time)
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
5 medium cloves garlic
½ cup coconut flakes
3 bay leaves
3 pieces cinnamon bark
2 small chili peppers
2 Tbs local honey
Juice of 4 golf ball size limes
Pinch curry powder
Salt, pepper & olive oil

Pierce whole pumpkin around crown and bottom, place on baking sheet and bake for about 1 ½ hours at 375 F. Turn pumpkin after 45 min.

As pumpkin is baking, sauté sliced onions and garlic in olive oil, adding peeled and minced ginger after browning. Add salt, pepper, curry, cinnamon, and bay leaves and continue to sauté for 10 min, covered. Add ½ liter water to make a make a stock-like base.

Separately, boil 2 cups water, and add coconut flakes. Boil for 10 min to soften, then blend on its own to a milk. It won't be too milky - so if you prefer, use a can of coconut milk instead, which would work great, probably even better. I'm trying to reduce additives and preservatives as much as possible, and canned coconut milk here has some strange stuff in it, so I went with the dried coconut.

Remove bay leaves and cinnamon bark from stock, add coconut milk, and keep simmering. When a knife slides in the pumpkin easily, halve it, clean seeds, and scoop ½ out and place in the stock. Add about 750 ml water to the soup and simmer for 15 more minutes.

Blend soup, adding minced chilies, squeezed lime, honey, salt, pepper and oil to taste.

Serve with lime wedges and Ryvita seeded crackers.

(For a really nice treat, a square of dark chocolate with chili follows very nicely).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Green Shakes in Sudan

(Before anything else I can’t help but note a parallel on this day to “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” and say a prayer for Family on every side of that upheaval.)

I’ve been in Juba, capital of southern Sudan, for just over 3 weeks, and have finally enjoyed my first Green Shake this Sunday morning. I bought the giant avocados (60 cents each) and finger bananas (just over a buck for the bunch) in the market yesterday, and didn’t ask but am pretty sure that they came from nearby Uganda. No agave nectar around to sweeten, so I used a dollop of very rich dark Kenyan honey.
For pure nostalgia, the shake was earth-shattering – and symbolic for me of integration of my life in Brooklyn and my new life here in Sudan. In terms of flavor and consistency, though, definitely not my best. Eager to make the shake, I jumped the gun on the finicky Avocado, which wasn’t quite soft enough. The smoothie ended up a little bit thin, not the mousse consistency we got most of the time at Urban Spring. The flavor was good, though, and the effect on mind and spirit can’t be understated. For the first few weeks here, I’ve been ‘coloring within the lines,’ i.e. paying attention to how my peers eat and following suit.

The range of culinary options that I have seen so far in Juba:

Office Canteen - This is by far my most frequent dining destination, a small set-up within our compound - by the way you can see exactly where I eat everyday by zooming in on the blue pushpin in this google map:,31.595821&spn=0.0322,0.055618&z=15

The canteen serves 'foul' (pronounced 'fool') which is beans and peas in sauce, white rice, a sticky and bland maize porridge whose name I never remember (a typical Kenyan dish), shredded cooked cabbage salad, and sometimes a slice of avocado or sauteed plantains, all for under $3. If you add chicken it's about $4.50, but I'm staying mostly vegetarian so far.

Home - Second most popular destination for me behind the canteen, where I cook myself a nice porridge every morning with muesli (German, from the PX located at the main UN compound), finger bananas, a nice big pat of butter (Kenya), dark honey (Kenya), and UHT milk (Uganda). Occasionally I'll fry some eggs, whose yolks are almost as light as the whites. I'll find out where the eggs come from and try to figure out why the yolks are beige at best... In the evenings if I have energy to cook -- which is rare (I'm not sure why but this place really tires me out, even if the amount of physical work in the day doesn't compare to work in NYC. It might be the heat, it might be the cavernous, jarring potholes, maybe the vast cultural divide, maybe that we're all entwined in the scarring and healing from decades of war), anyway, if I have the energy I may cook a pastasciutta with roma tomatoes from Uganda, italian pasta from the PX, local onions and garlic and italian olive oil (costing between $10 - $20 a liter).

My new housemate is a sensible Sri Lankan, who cooks nearly every night and is not shy about inviting me to join him, so I will be eating at home more and more I'm sure.

Lebanese - There are at least 2 Lebanese restaurants in town, one known as “Best Lebanese,” the other called Central Pub. If you call the latter though and mistakenly ask if it’s “Best Lebanese” the owner doesn’t miss a beat and responds, “Yes this is the best Lebanese in Juba.” At each I’ve had Lebanese salad (despite warnings to avoid raw food in town), hummus and bread. It was so nice to eat a simple salad (cucumbers and tomatoes), my body thanked me with each bite. For atmosphere, Central Pub was great at nighttime, with nice big lawn and operating fountain in the center, but for overall flavor, the winner already knows his name…

Chinese – There are a few Chinese places in Juba, which I haven’t been to yet— don’t hold your breath for a review from this quarter...

Indian restaurants and dancing girls – I’ve only been to one, Salaam, and was satisfied with the food and nice garlic naan, but most impressed with the two girls who danced to disco and Indian music in traditional garb – sexy but not vulgar. Worth the trip, but not high on my list for a return visit.

Nile Clubs (and dancing girls) – There's a whole series of camps along the Nile each with accommodations, restaurants and dance floors, the best one so far seems to be Mango. I haven't actually eaten there yet but did enjoy a few beers on a Friday night. The place fills up, and the gender ratio is surprisingly mostly women. Hard to know for sure who is who, but I’m pretty certain many of these women are here on business…

Ethiopian - There are a couple of nice Ethiopian places in town, my favorite is Queen of Sheba, since it is close to home, has a nice mix of locals, proximate guests (Ugandans, Ethiopians, Kenyans, etc.), and internationals. I usually order the typical mixed vegetarian platter on flat spongy bread, which is spicy but not too, and a little bit messy from eating with right hand. They have a decent cappuccino also, made from pre-ground Ethiopian beans and Ugandan UHT milk. And speaking of coffee, it's a bleak scene if you're a true lover as I am, but there are a few highlights. Mostly I'm doing one french press per day with Lavazza pre-grind from the PX...not bad. Early days I had quite a few Nescafes, assuming I couldn't do much better, and needing the caffeine to get me through the steep adjustment to Juba. One place, Paradise, actually has a nice grinder and machine, and makes a decent espresso.

Pizza - Paradise, mentioned above, has the best in town from what I've seen, serving a decent, personal sized vegetariana for about $10 (which is cheap in this town for restaurant dining. My first night here I was invited to another of the Nile clubs, Da Vinci, where a scoop and a half of seafood salad was more than $20.)

Thanks to the beautiful green shake this morning, I realized that I am not confined to these "usual suspects," and can bring some of my own nice eating habits out of the closet to blend appropriately with the surroundings. This will be the subject of coming posts, an accounting of food experiences and understandings in the context southern Sudan, in these difficult early days of Peace.