Mysette Misenga was born into a large family in Kinshasa, DR Congo – a city she describes as a culinary mecca, where foods from all the different regions of the country are widely available. Because Mysette lived in the capital growing up, and had friends from many different regions of the country, she learned different styles of cooking. This recipe for baked tilapia is an original recipe created by Mysette, whose mother believed all her 10 children, even the three boys, should learn to cook well – and made sure they did.

“My mother was a very African woman. Tough – not a lot of joking around!”

Mysette Misenga

“My mother was a very African woman. Tough – not a lot of joking around,” Mysette said. “She placed a special emphasis on food. She wanted us to innovate, create, learn about food. She said that if you tasted something and liked it, you should learn to cook it at home.” In addition to cooking, Mysette and her sisters were taught how to be “complete women” – take care of the home, wash laundry by hand, dust and sweep – and above all, clean the kitchen. “The kitchen should be the cleanest place in the house,” her mother preached. “If you made a mistake, and didn’t wash your dishes, it was a huge deal,” Mysette recalled. But all 10 children went to school because their parents believed that was the way to learn to become useful to society. Housework was expected primarily during school breaks, when the servants were given vacation and the children took over the chores.

In an environment where many girls Mysette knew did not attend school, she and her siblings all earned advanced degrees. Mysette earned a degree in computer science in 2004. Later she switched to politics, and worked as a parliamentary assistant. Her work included writing reports, and organizing meetings and other logistics for deputies in the government. Mysette migrated to Colorado in 2017, but she wasn’t at ease there. A friend who was living in Portland suggested she consider Maine, which she described as a peaceful place to live. Mysette followed her friend’s advice, and has been in Portland ever since. She learned about In Her Presence from a friend originally from Gabon. Now Mysette works as a volunteer coordinator for In Her Presence.

Baked whole tilapia

3 whole tilapia fish
2 onions
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Lemon and black pepper spice to taste
2 teaspoons cooking mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1½ teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons mayonnaise (Mysette recommends Heinz brand)
2 bouillon cubes (Mysette recommends Jumbo, a popular African brand)

Clean fish thoroughly and season well with the lemon pepper mix
Let rest for 30 minutes to allow the salt mix to penetrate the fish
Meanwhile, mix the remaining spices, mayonnaise, and mustard powder to a paste
Chop the onions
After 30 minutes, spread the paste over the outside and inside of the fish, and allow to rest for 10 more minutes
Place the fish on a foil-covered pan, and brush with oil
Cover with onions
Bake for 30 minutes (or longer, for a more golden color)
Serve with fufu, plantain, kwanga (cassava root), or potato