Saturday, December 15, 2007


Some Americans spend their childhood in suburbs – backyards, front yards, bike-riding in the street. Some are raised in cities – hubbub, playgrounds, concrete, culture. Some sprout in rural areas – porches, animals, tall grass, big sky. Others grow up in central Zaire.

Or maybe that’s just Ruth.*

Two weeks ago, in a transaction that looked suspiciously like a drug deal, my friend Ruth handed me an expired prescription pill container half-filled with brown-grey powder. I opened the child-proof lid, took a sniff – woodsy, with a peppery bite – and placed the goods in my purse. Buamba, she called it, a spice mixture from central Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) that goes with everything. Her family no longer lives in Congo, but they always keep some buamba close at hand.

I can’t decide if I should describe buamba as African MSG or fairy dust. Sprinkle it on slow-roasted tomato, a fried egg, a green salad, some soft cheese and va-voom, every taste is amplified. I am tempted to become a buamba evangelist, plying the streets of Harare trying to convince people to stop using so much salt and convert to buamba.

First, however, I need to figure out what goes into the stuff. Black pepper – that’s for sure. What else? Ruth herself is uncertain. All she knows is that buamba does not contain salt (sodium chloride), but
potassium chloride instead. A Google search for buamba turns up nothing, nothing at all. If any reader has the secret recipe, please let me know!

In the meantime, I will begin toting some buamba in my purse. Watch out unpalatable overcooked veg at the hotel buffet. Pay heed lifeless leftover. Here comes buamba. Va-voom!

*And, speaking of growing up, I should mention that Ruth is one of those women you want to be when you grow up. Even when you are already grown up.

1 comment:

Cakespy said...

Wow. Va-voom indeed! Ruth sounds like an awesome lady, and this is such an awesome blog! I am glad I found you.