Saturday, 18 December 2010

An Idiot's Guide to Afrikan Eats

This, the latest in this sorry series of error-strewn and increasingly politically incorrect blogs, has been commissioned by my Auntie, who wanted to know what the eats are like out here, and will go some way to dismiss my previous outrageous claim that ‘there aint no food in Afrika.’ My Gran in particular will be delighted to learn that we have been eating three meals a day with startling regularity, which is a marked improvement on University dining where I considered a cheese toastie and a protein shake as a good and wholesome meal.
I may be better looking than Jamie Oliver but the lad knows a good deal more about scran than I do so if you are looking for recipe tips and flavoursome dishes please refer back to the podgy-faced bloke on the Sainsbury adverts, for I will be offering none of that. But I figured if Bryson can turn a walk in his garden into an readable piece of prose, than it should be a piece of piss to cobble together an informative number on the ins and outs of Afrikan munch.
 Obviously the taste, price and quantity of Afrikan cuisine is drastically different throughout the country, and our culinary tour will begin where we started off on the island of Zanzibar (we ignore Dar es Salaam, because its shit). Its an island, so sea-food is the mainstay of the menu (I saw their cows, not a patch on our Jersey beauties) and in our week there we munched through an aquariums-worth of barracuda, octopus, tuna, shark and lobster, each one freshly caught and barbequed on the spot, (If Grimsby could offer a similar service, it would improve the town no end). Our hostel reluctantly allowed us to use their kitchen to cook some of our own food in, so, feeling Afrikan we waltzed down to the fish market (which reeked) and attempted (badly) to haggle with the local fishermen for some of their mornings catch. The locals inevitably found this hilarious, but we soon left with three shark steaks so everyone’s a winner really. After we nearly blew up the hotel with an unfortunate incident involving a leaky gas canister and a fair amount of flame you’d think we would have left matters there. But no, we went back to the market the next day, bought a whole freshly caught tuna (to the sound of yet more laughter, the novelty of white boys trying to haggle hadn’t worn off apparently), and spent the following afternoon butchering the poor creature with blunt knives in a vain attempt to gut it. A sorry sight, no dignity in death for the unfortunate tuna, and I’m pretty sure the hotel still reeks of fish.
Its taken quite a while for our untrained British stomachs to get used to the food, spent far too long of Zanzibar jaunt on the toilet and we still have to put chlorine in the water (from the well, none of this running water extravagance) here in Njiapanda to ensure we aren’t running to the hole in the ground all night. Lovely. On a more culinary note, we have a cook who prepares our dinner for us (sounds lazy, but cooking takes an age out here, and we’ve got poverty to eradicate and whatnot so cant be doing with that), so we have sampled the delights of ‘authentic’ Afrikan cusine, as well as the stuff they dish out to tourists and those wadded westerners who get to go on safari (no time for them). The majority of meals contains maharagwe/beans (solid start, better than kidney, not as good as magic), cabbage (don’t know the Swahili for cabbage, and don’t want to know, I’m sick of it), and ugali (the local staple made from maize, not sure how to describe it except that its really, really dense and that Afrikans bloody love it). In fairness, our cook (great lady) makes it all taste damn good, and it ticks all the boxes vitamin-wise, then its fruit for dessert (yes mother, I’m eating fruit, terrific news); mangoes, papaya, pineapples, bananas (for Burley and Ben, i cant stand the things) depending on the season, not eaten this healthily since a ill-conceived and short-lived second year drive to get my ‘five a day’. Other local favourites include roasted banana and beef stew (I eat this one, savoury banana innit, not like that sweet crap) and mbuzi/nyama choma (barbecued beef/goat) always served in man-sized quantities (unlike the restaurants in Knutsford, these boys don’t skimp on portion sizes you order by the kilo or you go home hungry), and with a side of rice, chilli sauce and an unhealthy amount of gristle (I’m not sure whether the butchers seek out the gristle on the carcass or its some sort of practical joke, but either way it ends up on my plate), gristle aside though, its pretty good nosh and would recommend it to anyone passing through Njiapanda provided your not afraid to pick through the less edible bits. At the mess of a wedding we attended last month, they had a barbequed goat as part of the buffet (a buffet in Afrika, who’d have thought), the poor beast was rolled out through the guests, apple in its mouth and herbs up its, well elsewhere, so we could all see some bloke hack chunks out of its back and onto our plates. We are planning to do a similar thing at our ‘Goodbye Njiapanda’ party in February, which means we have to buy another goat, and after the tribal unrest we triggered buying the last one, I’m not sure that that is something that rural Tanzania wants or needs to see again.
I rumoured in a previous post that I suspected Njiapanda might have a drinking problem, and indeed Rough Guide: Tanzania claims that the entire has an ‘extravagant drinking culture’, a label I’ve heard given to a University sports team or two better never a nation-state before. When the local tipple, Konyagi Gin, claims to be the ‘Spirit of the Nation’ you know you’re in trouble, add this to the fact that almost every beer is above 5% and you get the feeling that this lot like to get drunk, fast. Njiapanda is almost certainly a bad example and I’m sure the rest of the country is a lot more respectable than our little rural retreat, but a lot of people seem to hit the bars early because there is a lack of anything else to do, (Hobbies are in short-supply here). As an amusing addition, Konyagi is served in one of two ways; firstly, as a bottle, you don’t buy singles or doubles, or in a plastic sachet which you suckle in a way not too dissimilar to the way you would drink a Capri-Sun, a genius idea which can’t hit British shores soon enough.
We barley drink out here (gotta be in the office at 8:30am) but on a rare excursion to the Njiapanda Strip we bumped into some parents of pupils from our school and they demanded to join us for a couple. What happened next was the equivalent of a bi-lingual, very drunken PTA Meeting, which concluded with a parent (a school governor) ringing his home and getting his children (our students) out of bed and down to the bar to say hi to their boozed up teachers. A deeply regrettable and unsavoury incident all round (I do hope the same thing never happened at Manor Park Primary School), but something that sums up Njiapanda’s terrific attitude towards drink and its ‘extravagant drinking culture’.
So don’t worry Granwin, Auntie Anne, and anyone else who was worried about our nutritional needs whilst we were away. We are eating (and drinking) very well, and shouldn’t come back looking too dishevelled. Saying that I do miss English food, having a fridge, downing a pint of milk whenever I want or popping into Tesco’s and getting one of their shitty 99p sandwiches. Upon our return to London in February I plan to go to McDonalds and order everything (including Fillet-o-fish, and they are terrible). I’ve got a lot of time for Afrikan food, its proved my preconceptions of their diet wholly wrong, some genuinely enjoyable dishes and plenty of food provided you have the money to buy it lines the market stalls of every town and city. Any Englishman who says they prefer it to western eats however, is wrong, if you are one of said people, please make yourselves known and I will slap you with one of New Cod on the Block’s beautifully battered fish.

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