Saturday, February 20, 2010

Kazinga and Carbs

You know that philosophical question that asks about the existence of a falling tree devoid of an audience? In Malawi I find myself pondering deep questions like that one except it’s more like “if there is a food and it’s not fried in a gallon of oil, does it exist?”

Food in Malawi is, as predicted, not exactly haute cuisine. Most of the population eats a diet that consists almost exclusively of corn and soy with a few vegetables or fruits thrown in. The national dish is ncima (pronounced en-ceema) which is like a gluey, pasty porridge thing (sometimes shaped into patties) made from corn flour that tastes (and I say this  without a hint of exaggeration), like nothing. Well, maybe like packing material. The Malawians eat huge helpings of it with anything else (beans, fish, veggies etc) designated as “relish.”

The amount of relish you eat is proportional to your socioeconomic status. Most people only eat ncmina or a little bit of Likuni Palla (soy based porride) and have a tiny helping of beans or dried fish on special occasions. [Incidentally, this non-varied, nutrient poor diet is thought to be at least partially responsible for the development of kwashiorkor- the  deadly edematous swelling that we treat in children.]

Here at Kabula Hill where we live, we are lucky enough to have two wonderful women: Sheena and Eliza who cook for us and do our laundry while we work in the field. We buy the ingredients and they make us food.

And by food I mean oil. Literally everything that they prepare is slathered in generous quantities of Kazinga, the oil we get here. Beans? Yep, covered in so much oil that we sometimes strain them before eating. Veggies? Why not? Fry ‘em up in a pot with a munificent helping of Kazinga and stir them in a pot with peanut flour. Literally nothing escapes this bath of Kazinga and, try as we might, no amount of pleading seems to discourage them.

When not eating almost straight Kazinga, we eat almost exclusively carbohydrates. If you have a little bit of money in Malawi, you will probably spend it on white bread (those with less money eat sweet potatoes or ncmina with their tea)- which you buy freshly sliced for around 100 kwacha (less than a dollar). Fun fact about white bread here? They always advertise is as STD WHITE BREAD. Hee hee hee.

So a typical meal schedule for me is the following:

Breakfast (5am)- mango and white bread with peanut butter
Lunch (1-2pm because we don’t like to eat in front of the mothers)- toast with jam, fruit, leftover cake, other assorted carbs.
Dinner- oil with a side of beans and rice, or beans and potatoes, or beans and pumpkin leaves/other greens fried and put in a bath of ground nut (peanut flour)
Dessert- Cake or cookies. (Dessert is where Sheena shines because no one can object to the use of copious amount of oil).

So, to you, my dear friends, I raise a cup of Kazinga- chin chin!

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