I’ve given up cooking in Madagascar. I’d rather spend the money to eat out rather than take the time to cook a sub-par meal and wash dishes afterwards.
Two meals a day I eat at hotelys, small Malagasy restaurants. Most hotelys are a family’s living room converted into eating quarters. The cook is usually the household mother, and the people busing tables are usually the cook’s children. I ate a rice and fish meal for lunch once while the household father napped on a mat across from me.
The food is always good and always available, so I’m always eating it. The routine weathers you from the dirty and probably unhealthy hotely environment. The plastic table clothes usually have holes in them, dirt is caked in the corners along the walls, and the dishes are cleaned by quickly dunking them into a bucket of soapy water.
Malagasy hotely families haven’t been introduced to capitalist principles, namely product diversification. Nearly every hotely in my village sells the same four dishes for the same four prices. No one tries to undercut the competition with a new dish, a better dish, or a cheaper price. It appears that rice with beef chunks, rice with chicken and greens, rice with fish in tomato sauce, and rice with beans, all for 1,500 Ariary, are the only dishes and price my village’s consumers expect. As such, except for the town’s soup and brochette hotely, I don’t have much preference which hotely I visit. They’re mostly the same in my village.
My favorite hotely, which I frequent almost daily, sells soup and brochettes. The soup has noodles, a few beef dumplings, shreds of egg and carrot, and a piece or two of lettuce in a bouillon broth. The brochettes, small skewers of beef served with shredded mango, are delicious, and they always accompany my soup. In a weird twist, this hotely is also the dirtiest hotely in town. Flies are everywhere. Termites flurry around a hole in the floor and they’re often exploring the dining tables. One time I watched a hen and her chicks mosey through the room, and then the cook, a household daughter, shooed them out with her apron. But most notably is when I was eating dinner and found a long, Malagasy woman’s hair in my soup. Having become so acclimated to hotely dining experiences, I calmly removed the hair, shrugged, and continued eating, thinking, “Hey! At least it wasn’t cholera!”
In general, if the food is hot, it’s safe to eat. I don’t eat the macaroni salad that some hotelys dish out, nor do I drink the water hotelys serve. If I need to drink, I ask for ranonam’pango, which is boiled water mixed with burnt leftover rice. Yogurt for dessert is safe to eat since the milk must be boiled to make it, and even street food like samosas, fried dough, ginger bread, and grilled bananas are safe as long as people and flies haven’t been touching them all day long. Whether this advice is sound or whether I’m just lucky, I’ve been in Madagascar for five months and I’m still worm-free.