The Comoros, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean halfway between Mozambique and Madagascar, recently squashed a coup attempt on one of its three islands in a rather hilarious manner. Reuters reports that no one was injured in the invasion, and the rebel leader “was believed to have dressed up as a woman and to be trying to escape by boat to the nearby French-run island of Mayotte.” They always try to escape to Mayotte! We make light of this because Comoros has had bloodless coups and coup attempts on average of once a year since it declared independence from France in the 1970s. National motto in this beautiful but isolated country of 700,000: “there’s nothing to do, so let’s have a coup!” (Their actual motto is “Unity - Solidarity - Development,” but very few of those things have happened.)
This is a perfect opportunity to bring up the country’s delightful and virtually unknown cuisine. Its basis is the standard Swahili assortment of coconut-based curries served with grilled meats and fish, fortified with Indian snack food and graced with a dollop of the French sandwich aesthetic. When we visited a few years ago, our very favorite food item was a particular sliced hard-boiled egg and cucumber sandwich, served in shops around the capital on fresh-baked baguettes (France’s most laudable colonial legacy) with mayonnaise and spectacularly ripe tomato. We might have been biased toward the sandwich since we had been stuck in Africa for several months without decent bread, but we will say with some surety that it is was an artful combination of simple, fresh ingredients, and thoroughly satisfying to eat with two hands.
Our second favorite dish was tuna sambusas, which are basically like samosas but less flaky:
On mainland Africa, they’re usually filled with beef or lentils, but here, it’s a lot easier to source tuna than cow or pulses. At four to the dollar or so, one could really go to town on these.
Our third favorite dish was a beverage: tap water. After a few days, we were running low on funds to pay for the incredibly expensive French bottles that were the only available water supply in the marketplaces. Why no local bottled water like in every other country, we wondered? How do the people afford it? Surely they weren’t drinking tap water, the septic scourge of the global South! But after several locals told us it was okay, we tried a glass and a light bulb went off: the country is a volcanic island chain, and we were sipping pure volcanic spring water! Don’t tell anyone, or the next thing you it’ll be crawling with Fiji executives.
Oh yes, they also have crazy-looking lobsters for you to eat:
If you go, avoid: the incredibly sour injera-like sponge cakes they try to serve you with fish curries. Ask for rice instead. Also, manioc; it’s just not a very good tuber. Finally, plan your trip around avoiding election day — they close all the roads in the country, and you’ll have to hitch a ride with the Army. But it turns out the soldiers are quite friendly!