In Sikasso, eating out is often a abysmal experience. Very dismal compared to Bamako or Segou, simply because we are nowhere near the expat saturation that could support more European or Western style taste buds.
I think I mentioned before that we often eat local rice dishes at local watering holes, because it’s just not worth our time to cook at home when you can eat for $1. Rice with peanut, leaf, or tomato sauce, with two tablespoons of beef, ahem, “meat” in it. We can’t cook anything at home that cheap, or without copious amounts of time involved, so why bother.
Soon after our return to Sikasso this term, we spotted a new restaurant. At the main round about in the Sikasso market, just across from the post office, is this new restaurant called the “Le Nid”, translating as The Nest.
All the years we have been in Sikasso, the building has been a small bakery selling bread and various “Gateau” cakes. The cake slices are 500 CFA each ($1). The huge rectangular slices always look so delicious. They are a two layer cake with icing between the layers, and the outside slathered with decorative icing. A very professional looking job too.
Usually, leading up to the two month mark, the cravings start to set in, our systems experiencing the withdrawal from sugar. The villagers eat almost nothing with sugar in it. It is a luxury of the rich I suppose, not for subsistence farmers.
About this time into our term, we always seem to break down and buy a cake with all that nice fancy icing on it, and it ends up being so disappointing every time. We keep forgetting, but hoping this time will be different. Yes, the definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.”
The gobs of icing on the cake are pretty, but tasteless. How can you make a double layer cake, with icing between the layers and all over the outside without sugar in it? But that is the case. Icing with no sweetness to it at all, fluffy, and tasteless.
Well this bakery has expanded its horizon by extending a little terrace out on to the side of the street, setting up tables inside and out, and now serving a whole menu of things. We stopped in to simply check their menu a week ago, and it has some new variety we do not see, or actually get if we order, in Sikasso. I, personally, so do not want to hang out and eat at Le Nid. It’s on such a congested and busy street, you are sitting right on the road, and all the cell credit guys hang out front there too. If you are going to get hit, not that I am paranoid about it, I’d say this would be the perfect place for it to happen at night. So we will order takeout from here.
Their menu tells me that they are in direct competition with the old stalwart, the “Al Baraka”, which is not too far away, around a corner or two. The Al Baraka was a common hang out for the Peace Corps crew, until their evacuation from Mali, as the Al Baraka is probably the closest place to their Sikasso Base with some decent variety on the menu too.
The Al Baraka is another one of those bakeries with supposed “24 hour service” food service. I’ve not tested the 24 hour thing. However, the place always seems to have the most brain-dead, slow-motion-moving village girls working there as waitresses. They are not trained in any fashion, and the girls seem to turn over every month or so for a new crop. I suppose it’s because they get paid almost nothing by their Tunisian owner, and they just can’t take it any more. Or the Tunisian owner can’t take the pain of watching these slow motion people (they are painful to watch) and he snaps periodically, hoping to score a better girl. Who knows!
Anyway, the Al Baraka also makes cakes, and has Pizza, hamburgers, and Shawarma sandwiches on the menu. The quality is not that great, but as your food standards lessen over the term, and as you grow tired of same three rice sauce dishes, chicken, and fish options, the Al Baraka begins to look good. The shawarmas are just ok. The hamburger ranges from ok to downright terrible. But I don’t mind them from time to time. The real reason we avoid the place is that my wife gets sick off the food there fairly often, and that has not been the case with most other places we eat. But sometimes, you just crave something different, and hope it’s better this time. Insanity!
Anyway, Le Nid also has Sharwama sandwiches, Hamburgers, and Pizza on the menu. Like what, Pizza? Are you kidding me?
The Al Baraka often did not have cheese to make Pizza so we have never actually been able to eat a Pizza there in our three years of trying. The Zanga Hotel had Pizza on their menu. We asked about it repeatedly last term and they said they had no cheese right now, but were getting some. They finally told us to stop asking about Pizza, because it is not on the menu any more. So we have never actually been able to order a pizza in Sikasso before.
When we looked over Le Nid’s menu the first time, I asked the girl if they actually served Pizza, and she said no. However, we asked last night and the guy said they do serve pizza, so we ordered it. The story gets better; So hang in there with me.
A few days ago we ordered two of the Le Nid’s sharwarms and they are excellent, much much better than Al Baraka. So last night we arrived and ordered a pizza and they were actually able to make one, and it was really good. The next try will be the hamburger.
But let me tell you the Pizza story. We went in and asked if they could make Pizza, Yes, they could. I explained that I needed to take it home, and asked if they have boxes or something to do “Take out” with. Yes, indeed. We were getting excited to think that we might actually be able to get Pizza from time to time this term.
So we sat there for an hour as they made and cooked the thin crust, Mediterranean style pizzas. About 30 minutes in, starved (We had no dinner) and a bit cross-eyed from the busy day in the bush, we noticed the lady behind the till, and the boy “waiter” take a stapler and each began folding two huge pieces of construction paper (Not cardboard). No joke, they were actually trying to make our “take out Boxes” out of this flimsy construction paper and a stapler. The two spent the next half hour designing and then stapling together a make shift paper pizza box. They consulted the kitchen often about the process, the cook finally handed out a plate so they would know the size of “Box” required. Lynn and I sat there trying not to laugh and giggle out loud while watching this whole thirty minute process. The Pizzas went into the flimsy paper boxes and then into a plastic Bag. Some how Lynn kept the flimsy packages from spilling on the road, as she drove with them on the back of the motorcycle ride back to the house. She has skills, and she REALLY wanted pizza.
Despite the silly paper box show….. the pizza was actually good. Just a thin crust with a homemade tomato paste and water made in to a sauce. Each Pizza toping consisted of six whole olives with the pits still in them, and three tomato wedges the size of a quarter. But it had a cheese covering, and that made it good. A very welcome change only three weeks in to this term, we are thankful for it.
We certainly hope Le Nid will keep up it’s quality, and keep it’s doors open, because we are hoping to have a $8 pizza night, one night a week this term. Pizza just makes like good. Especially in hot old underdeveloped Mali.