Mzungu Memoirs

Not By Bread Alone

It was recently requested that I blog about some of the local foods we have eaten.  Actually, food is kind of on the forefront of my mind right now as I have been asked to help the cook at the eMi office develop a three to four week menu rotation that includes both Ugandan and mzungu dishes.  Both the cook and I are excited to learn each other’s recipes.  I am also very excited about the chance to finally get to plug in a little bit somewhere.

When we first arrived in Uganda, I had grand aspirations of eating and learning to cook all these Ugandan dishes.  My intentions were quickly put into check when on our very first day in Uganda we had the very mzungu meal of hamburgers at the office.  I quickly realized as I began the process of stocking our kitchen, that while my cooking habits would need to adapt to the ingredients that I have available, I would basically be cooking the same sort of stuff that I would back in the States.  The variety of meals that I fix is not quite as extensive, but mostly it is just like home which is comforting.  Although we eat mostly mzungu type meals when we eat out as well, we have been introduced to a variety of Uganda dishes that are really quite tasty.

Matoke is the quintessential Ugandan dish.  It is a type of green banana (or plantain) that is more starchy than sweet and must be cooked before being eaten.  It is a major cash crop in Uganda and can be seen transported on everything from large trucks to bicycles (yes, there is really a guy on that bike behind all the matoke).  Matoke is traditionally steamed in the leaves of the plant on which the bananas themselves grow.   It can also be boiled if you don’t have any banana leaves handy.  It is then mashed and served with some sort of sauce made of vegetables, ground nuts (g-nuts, similar to peanuts) or some kind of meat.  It tastes a lot like mashed potatoes, although I feel it could use some salt.  The first time I tried it (made by the eMi cook) was with a meat sauce kind of like a thin beef stew.  I have also tried it with g-nut sauce which I thought was pretty good.  However, matoke is not one of Robert’s favorite Ugandan dishes, so I probably won’t bother learning how to make it.  Caleb has at least tried it, but doesn’t really care for it either (although I’m not really sure he got enough in the bite he tried to actually taste it).

One of Robert’s favorite dishes is samosas.  It is a filled pastry snack that, according to Wikipedia, can be found in one form or another all the way from Asia across the Arabian Peninsula to the Mediterranean and throughout Africa.  In Uganda, it is a fried triangular pastry.  The ones we have eaten have been filled with meat with a little bit of onion and carrots and sometimes green pepper throw in.  I have also seen frozen ones with vegetable filling at some of the shops I go to, although I’m not sure what constitutes the vegetable filling.  Caleb is also quite fond of samosas, although he prefers to break them open, pull the filling out, pick out the vegetable, eat the meat and (maybe) eat the wrapper.

One of Caleb’s favorite foods is chapattis which are round, flat, unleavened bread similar to tortillas.  Apparently, they are common in Western Asia, particularly India, but they are also popular in Eastern Africa, especially among the Swahili people and in Swahili-speaking countries (which they do speak here in addition to Lugandan).  I have been told that chapattis are fairly simple to make.  Essentially, all they are is flour and water with a little salt thrown in.  Then you toss them on a well-oiled griddle (as opposed to dry for tortillas) and fry them.  I haven’t tried my hand at making them yet.  It’s kind of hard to get myself motivated to make them when Robert can run down the road and pick up three rolexes (fried egg with maybe a little onion and tomato wrapped in a chapatti) for he and I and a couple of plain chapattis for Caleb for less than one McDonald’s value meal.

A new Ugandan food that we just discovered is mandazi. It is fried bread similar to doughnuts (donuts) although they are not as sweet as U.S. style doughnuts and do not have a sugar glaze or icing.  They are typically eaten with tea or coffee for breakfast or for a snack anytime.  Caleb was just introduced to them yesterday when Grandma Maggie bought him one as a special treat for going to the local convenience store with her (I’ll talk more about the stores and markets next week).  We thought they would make a nice Sunday breakfast, and since I didn’t have anything else planned for this morning, Robert and Caleb ran over to the same little store and got us all some.  As far as Ugandan breads are concerned, it’s one of the better varieties, but it doesn’t really have a whole lot of competition (the breads here really aren’t that great).

There is one more dish that I would like to mention before I close: bamboo soup.  This particular dish was made by Grandma Maggie’s housemate, Florence, and it is really only made in eastern Uganda in the area of the village she comes from.  I’m not exactly sure how it goes from the ground to being ready to cook, but you have to boil it to make it edible.  Then you add some onion, tomato and mchusi mix (a common spice mixture used around here) and let it all simmer for a little bit.  It was really good when Florence made it and sounds very easy to make, so I’m eager to try my hand at preparing it with some of the boiled bamboo she gave us.

I’m sure there are many more dishes that we will get to try while we are here, some we will like and some we may not.  But I’m game.  I’m willing to try just about anything once.  Well, maybe not bugs.  Grasshoppers are a delicacy here.

“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:3

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