Right. This is for everyone who learnt geography in the 70s and 80s; for those like me who are still coming to terms with all the recent world changes. Quite a bit happened after we all left school (just watch Eurovision!), and the 90s saw the formation of Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia to name just a few! We’ve also seen the rise of Eritrea (1993), East Timor (2002) and South Sudan (2011), and had a whole host of name changes: Western Samoa became Samoa, the Federal Islamic Republic of the Comoros became the Union of Comoros Islands, and – here it comes! – Zaire became the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Which was confusing because right next door is the Republic of the Congo, today’s nation.
NOT to be confused with its younger brother, the Republic of the Congo has been so-called since 1960. To clarify, there are two countries with similar names: Zaire (which we all knew growing up) is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of the Congo (which is what we probably all think of as plain old Congo). Phew!
Much smaller than its neighbour, our Congo lies to the west, houses 65 million fewer people, is about a tenth in size, and considerably more prosperous (thanks to oil). But both speak French, are named for the same river, and enjoy roughly the same foods. And, both share a national dish: one poulet moambe.
A savoury chicken dish popular across the region, poulet moambe (or poulet à la moambé) is made by combining chicken, spices and palm butter (the moambé bit) to create a stew, often served with rice and saka saka (crushed and boiled cassava leaves). But the nation also enjoys fufu (a stiff porridge staple made with cassava or maize flour), safou (a purple fruit which looks a bit like a large olive, and is usually boiled and salted before eating), saka saka (a local favourite made with cassava leaves and salt fish), and makobe (freshwater fish seasoned with chili and cooked in the local marantaceae leaves).
Generally a nice mix of French, Asian and Arab cuisines combined with the more starchy traditional African fare, our nation’s cuisine tends to incorporate chicken, fish and goat into flavoursome dishes. Always with a dollop of pili pili on the side – a spicy chili sauce served as an accompaniment to most Congolese dishes, be they ‘Republic of’ or ‘Democratic’. Yes, it’s all quite confusing!