Som Tam (Papaya Salad)
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What: The spectacular Freetown Peninsula is lined with communities that have historically supported themselves via artisanal manners of fishing, employing hand-carved, motorless pirogues, or canoes, and hand-woven fishing nets. Unfortunately, their very existence is threatened by foreign, industrial-scale trawlers that fish illegally off the coast, depressing local stocks and forcing the villagers to go out farther and for longer amounts of time to pull in a decent catch. The good news is, you can support the local guys quite easily here, by simply buying and eating their delicious fresh fish and seafood. Many of the standard dishes you’ll encounter in this area will incorporate the local fish into the chop, whether it’s cassava leaf stew, groundnut soup, or punky. For a treat, though, seek out some local lobster, oysters, or crabs.
Where: These oysters are from surfer-friendly Bureh beach, the most stunning strip of jungle-backed coastline (we think) in Sierra Leone, near the southern tip of the peninsula, where local oysterman Tom (and others) skin-dives for fat oysters. At the time of our visit, the community was in the midst of building a surf school, restaurant, and bar, for which all proceeds will go back into the village.
When: Whenever you can find Tom! Fortunately, he appears to possess a keen sixth sense for knowing when foreigners show up to his beach.
Order: Tom will let you know what’s available; he charges about Le25,000 for a dozen oysters (feel free to haggle). Best of all, he brings them to you on the beach (or in the ocean—whatever!), shucks them, and serves them with lime. You might go the extra mile and request some beers as well. This is a worthwhile break from swimming, we assure you.
Alternatively: All along the peninsula, you’ll find great seafood, and it’s nowhere more appreciated than on the sand before the sea. We had some incredible spiny lobster at Tribewanted (232-78290578 or 232-78738583; John Obey beach, map), a community eco-venture on gorgeous John Obey beach, which serves local fish to guests for dinner every night (lobster or crab costs US$10 extra)—meals are included for overnight guests, but you can call to inquire about staying for dinner as a day guest (we encourage you to stay over, though—it’s a special place). Another great spot for local fish and lobster (when available) is River No. 2 (map), a picture-perfect white-sand beach and community with an open-air restaurant and bar, as well as lounge facilities for beach goers and overnight accommodation. As at Bureh and Tribewanted, all profit goes directly to the village here.
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