Who would have thought that I would have been the one asking for cooking lessons in Africa? If you have been following this blog for some time now, you will have learned that just a year ago, cooking was not for me. Fast forward a year later, and it’s actually one of my favorite activities. This is because I have learned that part of uncovering and discovering a culture is through food, and that has been enough insight for fall in love with cooking. I am not cooking just to eat, but instead to savor each and every bite of whatever delicious delicacy I choose to make. I refuse to eat to live, instead, I am living to eat.
Which is why, I have given up on ordinary recipes, those that bored me straight out of the kitchen in my early-twenties. Instead, I push myself to make the food I discovered along my travels or those of the places that I desire to set foot on. While in Africa, I asked Irvine, our chef on the tour, to teach me how to make a signature African dish.
While traveling, Irvine made us meals that would accommodate everyone’s taste buds. A couple of us begged for traditional food, but not everyone was as willing to try exotic meals. But one night in Namibia, he made us ugali (also known as sadza, pap, or a multitude of other names) to go with our meat stew, instead of rice. It was exotic enough to please my desire for traditional African food, but “normal” enough for those who didn’t want to venture far from their comfort zone.
From the first bite, I fell in love. Simple, and somewhat plain, ugali is made from maize flour, water, and butter. It becomes a doughy porridge that can easily be made into a spoon with the hands to scoop up stew. It’s most easily compared to polenta, and it’s what our guides and driver grew up eating. Personally, I couldn’t get enough, and occasionally, when Irvine made some for himself and the staff, he’d offer a little bit to me since he knew how much I liked it. But, eating it wasn’t enough, I wanted to learn how to make it.
I waited patiently, until finally, on our last night camping in South Africa, Irvine told me I could help him. Unfortunately, it was also after wine tasting at the vineyard, so while I did my best, I can’t say I remembered exactly how to make it. Either way, it was fun.
This was one of my favorite memories while traveling through Africa. By making ugali, a dish well-known south of the Sahara, I felt a deeper sense of understanding of the cultures I was experiencing, and a deeper connection to the lands I had traveled through.
Although I was afraid that was the last time I would eat ugali, I was lucky enough to find it on the menu in Cape Town under the name pap. Which meant, I was able to have it one last time.
If that wasn’t good enough, Irvine was kind enough to give me the recipe to take home with me. While I haven’t made it yet, I do plan on making it in the near future.
Cooking is about so much more than just food. It’s about culture and people, and this item in particular, is about so much more than that. To me, it symbolizes the memories of my trip from Zimbabwe to South Africa, and all that I learned along the way.
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All photos were taken by Michelle and Michael, members of the tour.