Tuesday evening here in the little box and half the family is singing about Maria. I am leafing through cook books having finally got back to cooking after a very long hiatus. Why the exodus from the kitchen, the self imposed exile? A combination of not having my beloved kitchen utensils, pots and pans, machines and toys with me; ( they are sitting cosily wrapped up in a Montreal warehouse) and hating the grocery stores here.
Shopping here is such a sad experience that it leaves me wanting. On the one hand there are things that were hard to find in Trinidad, such as a few good French cheeses ( although very pricey, think how far they have come), but on the other hand there are fewer gourmet shops with imported goodies than in Trinidad. Compared to Montreal, well, let’s just not go there. So with the optimistic intent of staying positive let us take a look at the grocery store situation here in Kampala. First, I must confess, I thought it would be far worse, and in the first few weeks here I kept finding things that amazed me, simply by their very presence on the shelves.
These are the things I find on a regular basis:
tins of tomatoes
wonderful passion fruit, mango, pineapple
South African wine
plenty of herbs and spices, many fresh
garlic ( from China!)
Tilapia and Nile Perch ( these are the only two fish available and they quickly become boring.)
These are things that I hop up and down with glee when I find:
Pesto in a jar
parmesan ( in a solid form)
These are the things I long for and can never find:
Refrigerated fresh pesto in a bag
Flour that is not made from wheat
Philadelphia cream cheese
cottage cheese ( to make lasagna)
Tubes of tomato puree
A good variety of decent cheddar and everyday cheese
frozen filo pastry
Chocolate that tastes like I remember it
Well, that is a snippet of my compartmentalized food brain. Moving on.
When it comes time to cook there is no simple opening of a cook book or perusing the nets. Instead it is an exercise in creativity and hope. When the fridge door is opened and the produce tray is pulled out the question is not what shall I run out and buy, but what shall I make with what I have.
I cook a lot of vegetables with chick peas, chili, curry and pasta. Soup is also quite easy, especially if it is butternut squash and lentil, we have made cookies, by making our very own chipped chocolate and now that I have found self raising flour, cake is possible. I have made a yummy sort of fish pie with sour cream and dill and if the potatoes are looking good they can be baked, scooped and mashed with cheese. Eggs here can be a bit anemic but if you find a non rubbery cheese, omelets are always good. The avocados are brilliant, so guacamole is a staple although it is impossible to find real corn chips. Rather than despair the trick is to throw together some imagination with a pinch of salt. We hardly eat meat but when the non vegetarian half of my family does it is normally chicken and it is easy to throw together a good marinade. Ginger and coconut milk are readily available and both can be life savers in the kitchen. And when all else fails and the fridge lends itself more to headaches than inspiration, the are excellent Indian restaurants to be found, one great Thai place and some lovely Pizza.