Far-flung dinners

Reflections on family, friends, chance encounters and a life of travel. An occasional series.

Wild food, uncivil society

Cameroon, 2010

The menu at the Christina Hotel, an unpretentious establishment on the outskirts of Bertoua, was reasonably extensive by the standards of provincial Cameroon. There was a choice of steak au poivre, poulet basque, singe, vipère or porc-épic – steak, chicken, monkey, snake or porcupine – but there was nothing to say how the bushmeat was cooked or what it was served with. [read full article]

Dinner in the Wild East

Dalnerečensk, Russia, 2005

Eating was a strange, interrupted business as we had to lunge at our plates during the brief moments when the screen on a tiny television, powered by a car battery and the only source of illumination, flickered at its brightest. Everything we ate had been grown, picked, shot or skinned in the fields and forests around Yuri Konstin’s log cabin, and none of this had been specially laid on for our benefit: we had arrived without warning, late one October afternoon, in an ancient van driven by a moonlighting soldier from Vladivostok. [read full article]

Confucian Confusion

Suifenhe, China, 2005

When I rang Cheng Baodong on his mobile phone to tell him I’d arrived in the border town of Suifenhe, I was treated to a torrent of words which were entirely strange to me. I knew they weren’t Chinese; but they sounded Chinese. I handed my phone to a pretty, chain-smoking Russian girl who I’d met on the bus from Vladivostok, a professional translator heading for Shanghai, and she told Cheng, in Mandarin, where I was. [read full article]

Nobody’s slave

Senegal River, Mauritania, 1995

When we realised there was no chance of reaching Nouakchott before nightfall we turned off the main road and headed south towards the Senegal River. We hadn’t eaten since dawn and I was aching with hunger.

J’ai tellement faim,” I said.

Moi aussi,” replied Mohammed.  He was sure we would find something to eat, and somewhere to sleep, once we reached the river. [read full article]

Dahl and dams

Barwani, India, 1991

Wander through a village bazaar, or through the ancient quarters of any city or small town in India, and you will be subjected to a barrage of odours, some exquisite, some foul, a few neutral, each in some way distinctive and indicative of past and present human endeavour; of walking and working, farming and slaughtering, cooking and creating, abluting and polluting: [read full article]

Lady Baker, I presume

The White Nile, Sudan, 1975

I had slept on concrete floors and bare earth, and on the metal roofs of trains in the Nubian Desert, but none of these experiences made the task of sleeping on the wooden planks of a Nile steamer any more comfortable. I woke up a little after dawn, feeling as though I’d been beaten up in my sleep. I rolled onto my back, gingerly kneaded my aching neck and opened my eyes. [read full article]