Food Travel and culture in Washington DC metro area.
I’m here to attend the wedding of my friend’s son as well as meet up with old friends. I’m in the home of my dear friend Pauline and today we’re going to be cooking some eru which is a traditional dish from the Mamfe area of Cameroon. Eru is one of the most popular dishes in Cameroon; I know that ndole is usually referred to as the national dish of Cameroon, But I know that more people get excited about eru than they do about ndole, personal experience. Even though I don’t eat eru I have more demand for it than ndole. Pauline story about eru. Eru is a vegetable that grows in the wild in the south western region of Cameroon where they share a border with Nigeria. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, the local inhabitants of the area, the Bayangi people started experimenting with this vegetable. As Pauline explained to me, the inhabitants like the taste of the vegetable, but the texture was too stringy, as the preparation of this vegetable evolved with the addition of water leaves (talinum triangulare) to soften the vegetable, they created a gold mine in the art of Cameroon cuisine. I’m also learning from Pauline that the brain power of the Bayangi people came from their consumption of eru, she’s not quite sure how this information came to being, but it is common knowledge amongst the people.
Cameroon food and culture
Pauline: The vegetable is flat and hard, it has to sliced into really tiny pieces to make it easy to cook. When it is mixed with the water leaves, it softens the vegetable.
Eru Tree Sliced Eru
Ceci: Is it difficult to slice?
Pauline: No, no you just need a very sharp knife and you have to hold the knife at a certain angle. It has a certain art to it, and it is a beautiful thing to watch. It is done mostly by the women.
Ceci: I have had the opportunity of watching this done a few times; there truly is an art to it.
Pauline: When we cook eru here in the states, it is not that common to find water leaves, so we substitute it with spinach, but the original recipe calls for water leaves.
Ceci: Is there too much of a difference using spinach instead of using water leaves?
Pauline: No, not really. I’ve used both. The main difference I’ve experienced is that with water leaves I do not use as much as spinach, because water leaves have a lot more moisture in them than spinach.
Also in order for the eru to be transported from Cameroon to the States, the eru has to be sun dried for preservation, so it requires even more moisture. Before I cook it I soak the eru over night to absorb some moisture before cooking it. This process helps soften the eru and moisturizes it. In Cameroon, it is fresher. The eru comes from the bush or market, sliced and goes straight to the pot. We try to get as fresh and moist as we can out here.
Ceci: I do understand that traditionally eru is cooked with several different meats. Why is this?
Pauline: First of all, there is a lot of hunting in the Manyu region. Part of getting the food to taste well is all the different proteins that are added to it. Also if you able to add a lot of different meats to your food, it means you are a person of means. You show your value or means in this situation by how much meats you have in your pot.
Of all the different meats that used in the preparation of eru, which one do you think is invaluable?
Ceci: And I thought it was kanda (cow skin.)
Pauline: Kanda and tripe are among them. There are also luxury items like, stock fish, smoked fish, smoked meat, bush beef or whatever you desire. The more meat you add to the eru, the more value it adds to it.
Ceci: The eru we cooked today has tripe, smoked fish, cow skin, smoked turkey, stock fish. It looks so delicious. I know it took a lot of time for you to prep some of the ingredients that went into it. So, let’s say you didn’t have to prep anything, give me a quick rundown on the amount of time it would take to cook a pot of eru.
Pauline: Let’s say we go by the basic, cow skin and tripe. The tripe takes about 2 hours to cook, the cow skin about 45 minutes … there’s nothing like not prepping when cooking eru. It will take about an hour if you have all your meats precooked and or ready.
Ceci: Thank you for opening your kitchen to me again. It was fun cooking with you and hanging with Mbango, Collette and Elsie.
Mbango whom I grew up with in Cameroon and went to Sunday school with, hung out at night clubs is in the other side of the kitchen preparing (sese plantains) porridge plantains. This is a one dish meal, one of my favorites.
Ceci: Mbango, I’m glad you could join me here today in Pauline’s kitchen. I wasn’t sure you were going to make it, I’m glad you did.
I know you are making some sese plantains for us today. So, why don’t you tell us what the process is?
Mbango: The ingredients for porridge plantains are plantains; you decide what protein you want in it, like smoked fish, meat, smoked turkey or what have you.
Peel the plantains
Put all in a pot
Decide on oil
Sometimes you can add vegetables, my favorites are bitter leaves or spinach, but you can add any leafy vegetable you like or some other vegetable; not mixed vegetables.
Let everything cook together
Ceci: Is it spicy or not spicy?
Mbango: Yes, it is spicy.
Ceci: Can you cook it non spicy:
Mbango: Yes, you can, but I don’t know what it will taste like.
I have ginger, garlic, a little bit of some black pepper, habanero, just one because it’s so hot. So, if you don’t like it spicy don’t add the habanero pepper.
Ceci: Mbango, thank you so much for joining us her today to cook. It was a lot of fun and brought back a lot of old memories. We have to do this again.