April 27, 2010

The Soul of Corsica in the Heart of Tanzania.

The word is out. It is good. Different. And the Mzungu four wheel drive vehicles have come in droves to check it out.

“It,” of course, refers to the brand new restaurant, Le Corsica, that has opened next door to our apartment building here in Dar es Salaam. Not just any restaurant, but a Corsican Restaurant, not to be confused with a French restaurant.

It is a joint father-son venture. They came here seeking adventure. A likely story with an unlikely twist. Let’s be honest boredom and restlessness are often the basic ingredients for adventure-seeking, but to Tanzania?! They tended bar under someone else’s dime for a combined 33 years, give or take a few. The owner wanted out, but the price tag he offered to formally appropriate the bar as their own proved steep. Too steep. So instead they packed up, and braved the shores beyond Corsica for the first time in their lives. Their schemes to make money and support themselves upon arrival in Tanzania were many and varied. Finally, they decided their most fitting course of action would be to offer the best of Corsican cuisine to hungry, wanting, and eager customers, read: ex-pats with a couple of Tanzanian Indians thrown in here and there for good measure.

The music is atmospheric. The food quickly shames any self-pronounced “good cook,” or anyone foolish enough to claim they put to best use local food stuffs available here. The flavors are simple and delicate. There is no fuss about it.

So what’s with all of the ex-pat fuss about it? The other night, we met a friend and her husband, parents to two young children, at Le Corsica. By the time we arrived she was on her second cocktail and had breezed through half a pack of cigarettes. “I don’t smoke usually," she said, “only when I socialize – we are just so excited to try a new place.” Another friend, who we introduced to the place, stopped conversation mid-stream to ask, “Wait a minute, are we even in Dar es Salaam anymore?” Over gmail chat, I was asked, “Have you heard of the new place?” Some other friends reported, we will certainly be back. Admittedly, we are the first among them, gushing with excitement over a new, different place. They opened the bar first. The bartender knew our drink of choice and counted us among his established regulars before food was even introduced into the restaurant.

In a world of limited options, the introduction of something new appears to drive people into a frenzy-like state, and everyone is quick to claim ownership of its discovery. By comparison, Dar es Salaam makes Washington, DC feel like New York City. Yet, interestingly, in our former DC-based world where we were bombarded with options, we often opted to circle through the same handful of places, and never really felt at a loss about not trying the newest, latest scene. And now of course, we find ourselves craving the multitude of options we once had access to. Go figure.

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