A Cooking Lesson in Africa

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

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.

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

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.

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

Cooking Lessons in Africa

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

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.

A Cooking Lesson in Africa

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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A Cooking Lesson in Africa

All photos were taken by Michelle and Michael, members of the tour.

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Comments (21)

    1. The World Wanderer

      Yes! It’s called sadza in Zimbabwe, but has different names depending on where you are in Africa. Our guides were from Zimbabwe, but they called in ugali. In South Africa, it was called pap. I just looked it up, and it has a ton of different names.

  1. Anita Mac

    I know this post is about food….but I can’t help but notice your fuzzy warm hat! Not something I would normally associate with a cooking lesson in Africa! I know it gets a little cold in some African places…just makes me laugh. The hat will serve you well on your upcoming weekend in Montreal!
    Looks like a great time in Namibia. I am with you on the trying local foods…great way to experience a new place.

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, I know! I actually didn’t bring a warm enough hat, so this hat belongs to one of the girls on the tour. It was SO cold, and I was not as prepared as I should have been. It is quite funny, especially when my photos from during the day have me wearing a lot less layers. 🙂

  2. Pola (@jettingaround)

    I wholeheartedly agree that cooking is not just about food, but people and culture. I’m glad you’ve learned to enjoy it, I sire do. This post is making me look into African restaurants in Chicago…

    1. The World Wanderer

      Oh! So fun! Actually, Jeff took me for Ethiopian on our first date, since he knew how much I loved Africa and was headed there that summer. I think that’s actually the real reason I fell in love with him. Nothing like being comfortable enough on a first date to eat with your hands either!

      1. Pola (@jettingaround)

        Good point about eating with your hands! I told you this before – that guy’s a keeper! 🙂 Say hi to him! You guys are great and I’d love to meet you both a do a double-date with Mr. JA. 🙂

        1. The World Wanderer

          Oh a double-date sounds perfect! Tell me when and where. 🙂

  3. Leah Travels

    The real question is have you continued cooking after this lesson? 😉

    1. The World Wanderer

      Hahaha! Actually, more than before I left. Still, I do prefer someone cooking for me. 😉

  4. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Geez…I can barely manage scrambling an egg with all the comforts of the American kitchen. I can imagine trying to cook in Africa! Well done:)

    1. The World Wanderer

      Haha, well I can barely scramble an egg at home too, if it makes you feel any better. 🙂

  5. Kieu ~ GQ trippin

    You know what, since we’ve been back, I’m enjoying cooking more and more too! I did it while traveling and it was so rewarding.. now, are you still cooking? Lol

    1. The World Wanderer

      I am! More than I did before the trip anyway. 🙂 I’m actually starting to like it!

  6. @mrsoaroundworld

    The more I travel, the more I learn about food – and more often than not, want to have it at home. Cooking can be amazing, and I always cook dinner every night (bet I surprised you with this gem, huh?) – it’s a thing that Mr. O and I do whenever we are home. And love it. Over time, we have become more adventurous – and try to recreate dishes from abroad (but only simple ones!). So, after this, have you continued to cook?? That is the question, my dear Erin!

    1. The World Wanderer

      You cook every night at home? AMAZING! That’s my ultimate goal I think, especially as I like cooking more and more. I have cooked a bit more at home, more than before Africa anyway. 😉 Still working on it, especially on the weeknights when it’s a bit more difficult time-wise.

  7. the lazy travelers

    so cool! food clearly shapes our travels and we’d love to make cooking classes more of a priority in other countries.

    1. The World Wanderer

      I actually regret not taking a cooking class in Thailand. Guess that means that I’ll have to go back!

  8. lola

    you are the VERY CUTEST ever!!!

  9. Abhishek (Wild Navigator)

    Just love ugali – I used to eat lots with African classmates in uni while doing my masters in wildlife conservation – yes, your right, its called different names in different part of Africa – What I like with it is Hot Chilli Pork with gravy 🙂 Nice

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