tastes like Africa to me

I’m always so proud of myself when I make a whole fish, which is silly. I didn’t kill it or clean it. I rubbed some harissa, garlic and olive oil on it, put a couple lemon slices inside, set it on top of some onion, tomato and lemon slices with a couple sprigs of fresh thyme and baked it for 25 minutes. It is ridiculously easy actually.  I made this dish because I wanted to try the tahini sauce you are supposed to eat on it, which by the way I think ruined it; I liked it better without.

You may want to skip this next part because I get sappy….

The smell started the memory action and then while eating it… I was back in Africa. I love Africa. I even love the things that I hate about Africa. The first time I went to Africa as an idealistic recent college grad out to save the world, I informed my host family that I would not be eating any fish, we weren’t close to any large bodies of water so it probably didn’t matter. Then I went to visit another family in another village. I guess I forgot to tell them. Every night for a week I was given half a small fish…the head end. I was later informed that this was just polite. I was the guest and “the head is the best part.” Now up to this point I didn’t even like to eat unidentifiable beer battered filets. It was all kind of traumatizing… I swear there were more tiny bones than meat. I still ate it. It would have been really rude not to!  I’m sure they were totally confused by the intact head and pile of tiny bones I left on the side of the plate each night.  Every day I prayed for something different and every night it was half a tiny fish again and I was, well, getting really hungry…but now I thank them. I learned to not only like fish but to love it!  I was forced to get past my stubborn idea that I did not like fish and actually taste it. The best gift someone can give you is to teach you something, even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

When I went to Senegal a couple of years ago with my now good friends, we also ate a lot of delicious fish. This specific recipe may be a middle eastern one from an Australian cookbook, yet it brought back all those amazing memories and many many more. You may not agree, but it tastes like Africa to me, and that is all that really matters.

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