A pink colored mix of tangy lime mixed through salt, tasting sweet and almost refreshing atop the steaming hot piece of manioca in my hands. I had lost my boyfriend during my frenzied panic to run across the road and greet the toothless lady cooking at the ﬂimsy street side stall. Mother and son stood behind a small table lined with pieces of freshly cooked manioca. They stopped to watch as I approached, not wanting to scare off a potential customer for the day. We nodded a greeting and I observed my surroundings, I found their work station on the ground, a wok ﬁlled with boiling oil sitting over a small ﬁre, the only place to rest was provided by pieces of wood made into seats and positioned in the hot sun.
The African heat left my clothes sticking uncomfortably to my body, quite a contrast to the company I found myself with, a Kenyan lady and her son unaffected by the humid air even as they stood over the steam from their casual kitchen. Hardly speaking a word of english we managed to have conversations through hand gestures and smiles. Pointing at a piece of manioca I tried to ask what it was. I gave up using words and instead tried a confused look, she nodded and proudly held up something that looked like a tree branch. This brown colored vegetable originated in Southern Brazil and has, over the years, become a staple in African food crops, playing its role as a valuable carbohydrate.
The raw manioca was long in shape and dark in color, when cut it had the same appearance as a potato, it seemed she was holding something new, yet, somehow it felt already familiar. Stopping to test the oil in the wok she continued to busily show me every step of what seemed a simple process but somehow newly creative from the hands of this Kenyan cook. I felt emotional as she watched as I watched her show me each step, noticing that she felt a little in awe to have found someone was actually wanting to listen and watch her do everyday work. Crossing the boundary into the work station she pointed to the wok as her son threw in some of the prepared pieces, I listened as the oil bubbled ﬁercely around the vegetable.
I watched as her son turned each piece with a stick, helping the pieces coat in a golden brown. Satisﬁed with the cooking time and the color of each piece, they ﬁshed out the fried manioca and threw them on prepared pages of newspaper. Atop of the table I noticed a tupperware container with no lid, inside was a pink colored salt and pepper mix with pieces of lime sitting in it. Using the pieces of lime to dip into the salt mix and rub over the steaming manioca, they handed me a piece I could only just hold in my hands without burning my ﬁngers. The mix tasted extremely tangy and almost bitter by itself, leaving my mouth slightly hot yet, also refreshed as the lime took over.
Adding it to the manioca was a completely new taste. Tangy, spicy and absolutely moreish, the perfect amount of salt and spiciness to season this hot and sumptuous street food. I could hardly let the pieces cool down before eating them hungrily from the greasy paper. The texture was like eating a perfectly cooked hot potato except this new ﬂavor woke my tastebuds and left me wanting more. I was kicking myself for not using this combination for all the millions of potatoes I have eaten over my lifetime. Standing on the roadside with my camera around my neck and continuing to congratulate my new friend on her special dish, I wondered if this would ever taste as good away anywhere else.
Part of my satisfaction was the smiling face watching me enjoy her food, laughing as I ordered another portion. They were working with limited ingredients and had matched them perfectly, taking what was accessible and transforming it into a food that perfectly represented the environment we were standing in. I couldn’t tell what she enjoyed more, having me watch her prepare or watching as I ate her food.
I ﬁnished my fourth piece and pulled out my wallet to pay. She asked me for the small sum of 40 euro cents, a small price tag for a meal with a priceless experience. I looked up and found my boyfriend with manioca in hand, I hadn’t even notice him arrive. I had been too lost in the kitchen of this honest Kenyan woman, cooking from a wok, that sits on the ground beside a busy road.