Monday, August 6, 2012

Food

It is fascinating to learn the extent to which Mozambican cuisine has been impacted by the presence of the Portuguese colonialists.  In fact, most "traditional" foods in modern-day Mozambique include or consist entirely of ingredients that were introduced after the sixteenth century.  Corn, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, sugarcane, and cassava were all imported to Africa from Europe and the Americas.  Garlic, chili peppers, sweet peppers, and rice were introduced by the Portuguese, as well.   All told, these foods make up the bulk of the Mozambican diet and are key players in the industry of agriculture.  Since most Mozambicans are involved in farming (around 80%), these crops play a very real role in every day life.  

To better understand food in Mozambique, let's take a look at the diet of a Peace Corps Volunteer.  What do Volunteers eat? What do Mozambicans eat?  Are there any surprises?  We'll start with a trip to the market.

At the market

These are all items found in the marketplace between the months of March and August.  Some foods, like okra and collard greens, are seasonal.  Others, like tomatoes, eggs, bread, and beans, are available year-round.  A few items, like green peppers, onions, and bananas, seem to go through recurring phases.  

The staple of the Mozambican diet, corn, is not actually pictured amongst the images above.  This is because the most popular food in Mozambique is grown, not sold.  Four in every five Mozambican families grow their own corn, which, in turn, accounts for more than one-third of the total land involved in agriculture.   

Now that we know which ingredients are available, we can start cooking.  First, let's make some xima.  Xima acts as a base for almost every Mozambican meal.  In the words of Zachariah-- "A person who is accustomed to eating xima will only want to eat xima for the rest of his life."

Cooking on the charcoal stove

Xima (also called massa or nsima) is a type of porridge made with water and corn flour.  The process of making xima actually begins in the field, where dried corn is picked, shucked, and left to soak.  The hardened kernels are soaked for two days, then laid out to dry.  Once dried, they are brought to the mill, ground into powder, and laid out (again) to dry in the sun.  Finally, after three days of labor, the corn flour is ready to be made into xima.

How to Cook Xima
  • Heat water in a large pot.  The water is ready when it is hot, but not boiling. 
  • Slowly stir one cup of corn flour into the pot of hot water
  • Once the porridge mixture is smooth (no lumps), cover the pot and let it sit for five minutes on high heat.  The mixture will thicken and start to "jump"
  • Slowly stir in more corn flour.  Add flour until the mixture is thick and hard to paddle.  
  • Remove from heat.  Using a wooden paddle, spoon xima patties onto a plate.  
Each xima patty will develop a tough, outer skin.  Inside, they should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.  

Adding corn flour to the xima mixture
Like mashed potatoes, but with the faint aftertaste of corn

Now that we've made xima, let's make a relish.  Xima is usually served with two side dishes.  My favorite is a simple one.  We eat this almost every day, usually with curry powder.

Collard Greens in Oil
  • Chop onions and saute until brown
  • Slice collard greens into 3mm strips.  Add to the sautéed onions
  • Add chopped tomatoes and salt 
  • Serve hot
The typical Mozambican meal is eaten with the hands.  Hands are first washed in a bowl of warm water, then shaken dry.  The nsima is rolled in the palm of the hand and then dipped into the relish.  


Xima and Relish

The following pictures tell another story-- the story of our experience with food, here in Mozambique.  Not all of the dishes are Mozambican, of course, but every single one was made using ingredients found right here in Tete Province.


Collard greens are known as couve
Couve is chopped into thin strips and then boiled or sautéed with onions 
Cucumbers are downright wicked in Mozambique.  These barbs rip through
plastic bags and are actually tough enough to puncture the skin
Cucumber is usually prepared in a salad.  This cucumber is "de-barbed"
and served with lemon juice, salt, and red pepper
Papaya from the yard.  One of many fresh fruit options in Mozambique.
Other fruits (not pictured) include:  bananas, tangerines, and mangos.
Breakfast:  Two eggs, paozinho (little bread), banana, tangerines, and black tea.  We make this meal every single day.
Lunch:  Green peppers, onions, macaroni, and hot dogs.  After discovering frozen hot dogs in Tete City,
Dan and I have been eating a lot of this makeshift "sausage and peppers" meal.
Dinner:  Quesadillas with homemade guacamole.  This is a rare treat.  Cheese comes from the city and doesn't last very long.  Avocados are common, cheap, and huge but are only in season for a few short weeks.

Finally, I leave you with one final category:  Extra-Special Wintertime Treats.  While traditional cuisine in Mozambique tends to be fairly bland and predictable (corn flour and tomatoes), there are some dishes that might surprise you.  Two notable examples from this week's trip to the marketplace include:  Green Bugs and Dried Mice.

Green Bugs:  15 cents per clump.  When choosing your handful of bugs, it is best to choose bugs with green-colored bellies.  Bugs with dark bellies, apparently, are stuffed with urine and are liable to "pop sour" in your mouth.  Bugs should be boiled first, then fried in oil.  
Dried Mice on a Stick:  30 cents per stick.  Any Mozambican vendor will be sure to remind you
that these are field mice, not house mice.  House mice are considered dirty, whereas bush mice
 are just considered "meat."  Apparently, you must first boil the mice in water to remove the fur.
Dead Mice on a Stick

Bon Appetit!

8 comments:

  1. Hello Lisa!

    On behalf of the Peace Corps' Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services, thank you for maintaining your cross-cultural blog and participating in the Third Goal of sharing other cultures with Americans. We especially enjoyed this post about cuisine in Mozambique. Your recipes are descriptive, and your photos are gorgeous! Everything looks really delicious (with the possible exception of dried mice on a stick... but I wouldn't be opposed to trying them at least once).

    www.peacecorps.gov/thirdgoal
    thirdgoal@peacecorps.gov

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  2. Thanks for your insight into the food eaten in Mozambique. I sponsor two children who live in this area and it has been useful to learn about what they eat.
    Leanne

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  3. I loved reading this blog! I'm just curious as to where in Mozambique are these foods from. I lived in the south for a while and I am quite familiar with everything but the mice on the stick. That was a surprise!

    -Gia.

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    1. I am also curious about the mice on the stick. Where in Moz do they eat that?

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    2. Hi! So I can't speak for Mozambique as a whole (there is so much variation!), but Tete province is FULL of street-side vendors selling mice on a stick. I've also seen it a lot in Malawi.

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    3. They also are found in Sofala, in Beira at least.

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  4. You are missing my favorite, Matapa!!!!

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    1. Haha. I wish we had matapa in Tete! Unfortunately, it's not a regional dish for us. No coconuts out in the desert...

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