Thursday, 12 May 2016

Caterpillars, chocolate and cooking oil

Quite a few people have asked me what the food is like in Zambia so I thought this would be a good topic for a blog post. As many of you know, I love food - especially anything sweet! So here’s a taster of some of the food-related experiences, disappointments and cultural differences that I have encountered during my time here.

Sweet tooth

New experiences

The most interesting food I have tried since coming to Zambia has to be caterpillars. I ate them for the first time when I was on holiday in Livingstone with my family a few weeks ago. I had often seen them sold in the market in Ndola but never found them particularly tempting. Caterpillars are a local delicacy there and don't look very appealing, but when I tasted them they were better than I had expected. I’d describe them as tasting like burned calamari. The fact that they were so well cooked definitely aided digestion, as they were so black it didn't look or feel like I was eating bugs!

Eating caterpillars

One of the popular foods that I am yet to try here is kapenta, which is a small, smelly fish. I’ve bought it from the market for some of our Arise families and it always makes the car smell. However I can definitely confirm that one Zambian delicacy that I won’t be sampling is one we wouldn’t dream of eating in the UK….tinned rat!

Kapenta, tomatoes and onions

Fish sold at the market
One important food group in my life is chocolate, particularly Cadburys Dairy Milk. I love the stuff! This meant that I was very excited to find that it is now sold in the local supermarket here in Ndola. They actually sell a number of flavours that aren’t sold in the UK, such as biscuit, mint, and coconut & cashew nut. However, I was disappointed to discover that due to the hot weather, a different type of milk is used in making the chocolate so it definitely doesn’t taste as good as the Cadburys we have at home. I’ve been extremely grateful to all the friends and family who have brought or sent out chocolate for me from the UK…it is very much appreciated, even if it doesn’t last very long!

An excellent stash of 'real' Cadburys that my church sent me last year

Local traditions

The most traditional Zambian meal is nshima (maize), which is the country’s staple food. Most people here eat it regularly and some families have it for almost every meal. I have found it similar to ugali in Kenya, and sadzma in Zimbabwe, so I guess that it is a popular food in most African countries which each have their own name for it. Nshima is usually eaten with 'soup' which is a sauce, and some kind of protein if you can afford to buy it, e.g. a boiled egg, chicken, kapenta or a whole fish (including the eyes!).

Nshima, fish, veg and soup

The children at school love nshima

Another meal that seems to be eaten often here is rice and beans, although this isn’t a traditional Zambian dish. There are several different types of beans available here - my favourites are red beans, which are surprisingly tasty for a veggie dish! We often use the leftover beans to make some rather tasty bean burgers.

Many local people cook on a brazier (a metal container that holds hot coals) which is also how the children's porridge is cooked at school in the morning. It means that Zambians get through a lot of charcoal but one good point is that this method doesn’t rely on having power - very important here considering the frequent load shedding.

My favourite use of a brazier - cooking marshmallows

Oil overload

I have noticed that Zambians tend to use a huge amount of oil, salt and sugar in their cooking. I don't mind the sugar because I have such a sweet tooth, but I don’t enjoy the large amount of oil that is put into our meals! A friend of mine told me that she went camping in the bush with a group of 10 people and bought five litres of oil for the three week trip. She couldn’t quite believe that it was used up in just two days! It’s little wonder that it seems quite common for people here to suffer with high blood pressure.

Zambians love oil (which ironically they call 'salad'!)

Our house of volunteers are very privileged to have our dinner cooked for us Monday to Friday. This is done by Catherine, our lovely cook who also teaches us bits of Bemba (the local Zambian language). I would describe the menu as 'African English' because we often have meals that we would eat at home but sometimes with an African twist. For example, vegetables are cooked in a lot of oil and sausages might be made from beef as you cannot always get pork here.

Foodie differences

We cook for ourselves at weekends and during holidays, and so I have found that the biggest difference in cooking here is that you can't get all of the ingredients that you can at home, and the selection available seems to vary with each trip to the supermarket. For example, it took three different shopping trips before we could find cream in the supermarket. I do miss having a Co-op around the corner and a Tesco Express down the road like I do at home, but it’s just an inconvenience rather than a real problem, in the grand scheme of things.

Occasionally we cook a roast dinner for a taste of home

Food is quite expensive here and many people that we support in the local villages struggle to even eat every day, so I feel very fortunate to be able to afford to eat three good meals a day. Living in Zambia has not changed my love for food, but it has certainly made me more grateful for it.

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