Eating · Food and Drink · Places I've Lived · Toronto

Benachin with Yassa

I walked along little streets today, and they were alternately sunny and shady. Everything looked new. I changed my iPod battery for a silly low price at iRepair on College Street. I went to Kalendar and met PC, who wore a very pink t-shirt, for a drink. He looked very different from the last time I remember meeting him. Maybe it was the t-shirt. Coincidence of coincidences, he lives on the street where I once lived in Roncy. In fact, I walked through his coop’s laneway every day on my way back to 9 Grenadier. That was a nice coincidence, and brought back some lovely memories of time at Gate 403, where I first heard the Roberto Rosenman Quartet play, and fell into a great passion over RR’s Django-style string-love.

After this, I strolled back to my neck of the woods, and went to the Hart House for a swim. Pulled out my very nice new black bathing suit. Pool was empty. Skylight was beautiful. Forty-five minutes of peaceful swimming (forgot to take off my mascara, which then got on the inside of my goggle lens) back and forth. I did 30 lengths. 15 laps. Had to take 1 minute breaks between laps, but not bad for getting back into it after a year.

Heard drums and island music. It was in Queen’s Park. Jerk chicken being barbecued on coal grills, fresh juice blended from fresh fruit right in front of my very eyes. People dancing. Nigerian lady in her bright blue and pink dress with matching turban. Somalian lady in mustard and black buibui working a blender. Jamaican man selling ice-cold coconut water calls out to me as I pass by.

“Hey you,” he says, “You got the most beautiful eyes.”

We grin at each other and I wave thanks. I don’t buy the coconut water. But now that I think of it, why didn’t I. Must go back tomorrow.

I see the New Bilan stall. I ask the lady there if they have any Kenyan dishes.

“I’m Kenyan,” she says. “Habari!”

“Mzuri,” I say. “Habari yako?”

And then we speak for a bit, mine rusty, hers tripping off her tongue smoothly. She picks my dish and fills it in a box. She throws in a drink for free. We say goodbye.

I walk on, and there’s a SeneGambian stall up ahead. I’ve never eaten food from Senegal or Gambia. This is terribly exciting for me. I order a plate of Benachin with Yassa au Poulet. The chicken is grilled, and served on a bed of couscous Benachin (tomato-based), with a sauce of onion, mustard and black pepper. I also get sweet, deep-fried dough balls. I think they’re called Pantoka. But I forget. I’ve googled it to death, and I can’t find it. It’s oily, but it tastes like heaven.

I wander back home. Got enough food to last me two lunches and a dinner. My head’s playing a Bonka song on repeat — “Traga Maluca” — a cumbia beat that makes everyone who listens to it do shoulder-shimmies. There aren’t many songs that make me want to do shoulder shimmies. (Except Arabic music, of course.)

There’s nothing like feeling like you’re on vacation in your own city.

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