It wasn’t very well-planned – a food adventure the day after a long night! We’d gone to the Marine Ball the night before where we danced a lot, drank a lot, and yelled a lot at the hotel staff trying to steal all of the guest gifts from right under our noses. Needless to say, almost everyone bailed on our lunch adventure, except for a dedicated group of three adventurers. We woke up bleary eyed, napped a bit more, dried to dress, then made our way to taste what turned out to be the best street chicken in the Congo.
We got to this one particular street bar around noon, under an enormous tree on an otherwise really ugly street. We ordered one chicken for the three of us, and waited. And waited. And waited some more. Two hours later, we tasted what, one and a half years later, is still the best chicken I have had in this country (and many others too).
There are several steps to this chicken. It is first roasted whole for about an hour, then taken off the grill to be chopped up into smaller bite-size bits, mixed with onions, chives, fresh chili, salt, oil, and then wrapped in wax paper to be baked for another hour or so on the fire. Do not go tell the guy that the chicken isn’t cooked all through when he first takes it off the fire, because he knows what he’s doing. He also gives you a look that makes you tip toe back to your table to sit patiently until the next hunger pang. At which point you inevitably go back to ask why the food isn’t ready, and he points at the packet roasting on the table with his machete, gives you another look, and you once again tip toe back to your table. During the waiting time, there are boys who come around to sell packets of tissues, and we kept saying no! We don’t need them. We also got “entertained” by two young boys doing chinese acrobatics on paint cans, who we paid just so they would stop.
When the chicken finally arrives, it comes with pili pili salt, which may be the most delicious salt on earth, and toothpicks. Our first bite brought incredulous looks on all of our faces. How can chicken, CHICKEN, taste so good? With nothing to really enhance the flavour other than some very basic spices, and a scrawny chicken to start with, how can this be so flavourful, so juicy, so spicy? However they do it, they succeed. We felt a little bit like Anthony Bourdain on one of his street food adventures, licking his fingers and groaning in delight. Our mistake the first time we went was not to order foufou (very bland manioc paste), and all that palm oil made us feel a bit sick to the stomach. Also, we greatly regretted not getting the tissues (and desperately found a boy who could sell them to us immediately) because toothpicks only help you so much in the eating of this chicken.
All in all, we had some great food, on a great day, with some great people, and we’ve been back many times since. Vegetarians can also join for some hard-boiled eggs (also with the same pili pili salt) or liboke if they eat/like fish.
The place is very easy to find – drive down 24 Novembre, and turn left before you reach the RTCN crossroads. Go straight down that road until you find a string of street bars to your left, under a very VERY large tree. It’s practically the only tree on the road, so it’s hard to miss. Lots of space to park, and to sit. I would recommend arriving there closer to 2pm which is when the chickens are usually ready, rather than around noon, because you’ll have to wait until 2pm anyway. Though if you do arrive earlier, you can always plan a competition like who could find the most outrageous outfit from stuff being sold to customers of the street bar.