A “cafeteria” has a specific definition in Benin. Cafeterias have a permanent seating area including a roof and a lunch counter. Some of them have a television. Most non-cafeteria lunch stands have only a bench to sit on by the side of the road, sometimes with a shade cover and sometimes without. Women invariably cook the food at roadside stands, but not at cafeterias. Serving coffee, tea, spaghetti and omelets, cafeterias are overwhelmingly the domain of men. I’ve asked why and, despite numerous answers, haven’t learned much. I’ve heard that women can’t afford the more expensive buildings required for a true cafeteria and that women don’t like running cafeterias. My favorite answer, however, is that men from Nigeria came to Benin and shared the secrets of the spaghetti omelet with men here, but the untaught women remain ignorant of its secrets.
I haven’t been let in on the secret but have carefully watched the cooks and think I’ve deduced the keys to success. Toss a pile of boiled spaghetti in a pan with oil, raw onions and raw scotch bonnet peppers. If you are feeling ambitious, add some slices of hot dog into the mix. Or fry some tomato paste in with the onions and hot peppers. Top that with an omelet seasoned with the same raw onions and scotch bonnet peppers. Or go eggless and top your spaghetti with a can of sardines. Finish the dish with a dollop of mayonnaise. What do you get? A greasy, tasty gut bomb.