Monthly Archives: May 2013

Chez Houssou: Grilled Pork and Pig Blood Sauce

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I don’t recommend a trip to Benin for its culinary treasures. Once here, however, go out of your way to eat at Chez Houssou in Adjarra near Benin’s capital, Porto Novo.

There is little ambiance, service is hit or miss and vegetarians should steer clear. But if you like pork, this is the place for you. Pigs are butchered on the premises before being spiced and grilled over a wood fire. Spicy and smoky, the pork is delicious on its own. Its the free accompaniments, however, that set Chez Houssou apart from the competition. Three types of homemade hot sauce – one made from fresh green chiles, one made from dried red chiles, one made from ground black pepper, fresh ginger and garlic – along with raw onions cut the rich, fatty meat just enough to keep you popping the pork bits in your mouth indefinitely.

Even better, a plate of meat comes with a side bowl of ‘sauce’ as well. More like soup, the dark red-brown sauce is a mildly spicy, complex broth with pig’s blood as its base. No spoon comes with your sauce/soup, though; everything is eaten with your hands. The one choice offered to diners is between piron and akassa as the starchy canvas that you will dip into your pig’s blood sauce. Go with the piron. At its base is gari, dried and ground manioc. Tasty on its own, pig fat is added as it cooks making it a decadent scoop for your pig blood sauce.

Like liver, ears or intestines? Everything is available. Just tell your waitress. Or, like me, stick to the familiar parts of the animal. A little mound of about six to eight bite-sized pieces costs 500 cfa ($1). I usually stop myself after two platefuls of meat but could polish off $10 worth if gluttony got the better of me. Calling this Benin’s best restaurant might be an overstatement. But I stand by it. If you are nearby, come join the crowd.

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Sushi Bowl

Sushi Bowl

Avocados are in season. Depending on the size and quality they are either cheap or really cheap. I put them to good use in a recent sushi bowl dinner. After seasoning rice with salt, sugar and vinegar, I topped each bowl with avocado, quick pickled carrots and cucumbers, nori shake (toasted sesame seeds, nori sheets and salt), pickled ginger and fried tofu. Locally made and freshly fried tofu is sold in our market; I did the pickling and nori shake making in our kitchen. If only I’d thought of this when we were in Cape Verde and fresh tuna was available daily.

Time to Make Pesto

Garden

The basil that Jen planted in front of our house is booming. On the far left is a bushy Thai basil plant; the other three are sweet basil. The mint and cilantro died because the basil shaded them too much. There is some lemon grass behind the basil on the far right of the garden.

In this photo the basil is a bit beat up by a recent rain storm. Though I use the basil several times a week, I can’t keep up with it. I’ve been meaning to make pesto for some time though it is a more time intensive process with a mortar and pestle instead of a food processer.

We’re not the only ones who love the basil. The neighbors’ chickens like to hide under the plants, driving our cat crazy. As in this photo, he sits at the door and prepares to pounce. He’s gotten out and chased the chickens away but hasn’t caught one yet.

Yams (Not Sweet Potatoes)

Yams

Yams are more commonly eaten (and grown) in northern Benin as opposed to the south where we live. Different than what we refer to as a yam in the US, yams here are enormous, starchy tubers similar to manioc. Yams can be huge — some thicker than my thigh and longer than my arm. They are commonly eaten fried or mashed. Yum.

Easter Sunday

Easter Dinner 1

Easter is a big holiday in Benin — lots of church and family celebrations. Jen and I partook in both. In the photo above we are with three priests and other members of the local Catholic church at a lunch celebration. In the photo below we are with friends of ours at a picnic in the woods. We ate very well this day.

Easter Sunday 3

Easter 2