Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Kamerun: Besser spät als nie

I interrupt these (somewhat) regularly alphabetized postings to bring you Cameroon. Back when I was eating my way through the C's, I wasn't able to find a Cameroonian restaurant and had to skip it, but a visiting friend randomly discovered Bantou Village in one of the temporary exhibits commemorating Berlin's 775th birthday (something having to do with the city's diversity). I was initially skeptical that it was even a Cameroonian restaurant. They do speak Bantou (also Bantu) languages in Cameroon, but as Wikipedia says: "Bantu languages are spoken largely east and south of the present day country of Cameroon; i.e., in the regions commonly known as central Africa, east Africa, and southern Africa." And, BV is on Kameruner Strasse - what are the odds that a Cameroonian restaurant in a city the size of Berlin would end up on this street!? But, the website does show that they serve ndolé, the Cameroonian national dish ... so it seemed I had to get to the bottom of it! Off I set for Bantou Village (I've been spending an awful lot of time on the 106 bus lately - a good indication that Moabit and Wedding are home to some of the city's most interesting neighborhoods for "ethnic" eats). The place was empty, save for about ten guys playing the gambling machines in the back, when I showed up a few minutes before my friends, and the waitress looked very surprised to see me. BV is clearly a Cameroonian/African hangout - with one exception we were the only non-Africans there all night. It's also one of those places that, while it does have a printed menu, may not have several items on said menu. No matter. Between the three of us, we ordered ndolé (of course), mbongo, and the more familiar chicken wings. I'll just go ahead and tell you that I have failed the foodie coolness test by really disliking the ndolé. The dish, which looks similar to creamed spinach, is primarily bitter leaf and ground peanuts with the possible addition of some protein (beef in our case). I am a huge fan of greens and I like most bitter things, but it turns out bitter leaf is just too bitter along with having an unpleasant smoky aftertaste (this might have come from a seasoning - black cardamom?). I tried to like it, I really did, but concluded that it must be an acquired taste...and I just couldn't acquire it. In my defense, neither could either of my dining companions. Mbongo on the other hand, is something I could eat again. That said, I'm not entirely clear on what it was. The base was collard or a similar green and while the dish was listed under the seafood section of the menu, there was no visible fish, but rather a fishy flavor (dried fish, I'd guess) and contained a few chunks of beef. The internet tells me that the flavor comes from the seeds of the alligator pepper plant. Another source says that it is flavored with a ground tree bark. I just don't know enough about African, let alone Cameroonian cuisine to say, but it was good. Both of my friends loved the chicken wings - I'm just not a chicken wing person under the best of circumstances,'ll have to take their word for it. At the end of the day, I can't say I loved Bantou Village. It's not a restaurant doing everything right - the rice accompanying the mbongo was really mushy, for example, and as I mentioned, they were out of about a quarter of the menu, but it was definitely a worthwhile expedition. I do enough ranting about "ethnic" restaurants dumbing down their menus here and it's really refreshing to find one that doesn't. So I don't love ndole - now I know. Bantou Village Kameruner Strasse 2

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