Monday, October 26, 2009

Monrovia's restaurants

As one of my friends pointed out the other day, I don't like to complain -- until I do. Here you are: the restaurants in Monrovia are repetitive, overpriced and disappointing.

They don't take advantage of diverse fruit, vegetables and seafood around -- rows of sweet pineapple, piles of different mangoes, huge papayas, different types of cucumbers, sweet and savory bananas, water-filled heirloom and round Roma tomatoes, litchis that Liberians call "monkey balls," white cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, huge pumpkins and squash, colorful spreads of hot red peppers, and even -- occasionally -- guavas. Instead, they serve the same things, mainly Lebanese appetizers, sometime canned, rather smallish and spare salads, and overcooked meat, sometimes in an oily stew.

The two exceptions are the Great Wall Chinese restaurant and Tajj, the Indian restaurant -- both within a few blocks of each other in Sinkor, one of the areas outside downtown Monrovia. Tajj is a wonderful mix of North and South Indian food, with giant $6 masala dosas and idlis on the weekend, a marvelous coconut milk shrimp masala. The restaurant is outside, surrounded by high whitewashed walls and covered by a thatch roof. There's a giant screen for projecting football matches up front, and I imagine they could do a great movie night. That Tajj is right next to one of the country's two Totals, the only trustworthy gas stations in town, makes a good excuse for a visit.

This whole post has perhaps been an excuse to talk about the Great Wall: indubitably the best Chinese food I've ever had -- and I lived in Chinatown in Manhattan for four years. There are homemade pork dumplings, kung pao chicken with tons of Sichuan peppercorns, and an assortment of strange vegetable salads served lukewarm that I am consistently impressed by.

The Great Wall restaurant is across the street from the Great Wall Hotel -- one of the taller buildings in Monrovia that isn't bombed out from the war. There's a bar, largely stocked with Chinese spirits I look forward to trying, and six tables -- some with the set-up for a hot pot -- with two private rooms in the back. The waiters and waitresses all wear red tailored high-neck Mao tops and I've heard it becomes quite a party on some weekends, with some singing together past the point of drunkenness until they are carried to their cars (and, hopefully, drivers) outside. It's an awesome little place to hang out and explore -- and I'm headed there tonight.

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