This blog post is about one of my favorite things: food. Many people have asked me about the food that I have been eating here and how it is different from home. I will attempt to adequately describe a few of the wonderful foods that I have been cooking and eating during my time here thus far.
Note: Sorry for the lengthy post, but I just LOVE FOOD!
Most of the time, I cook all of my meals in my flat. The other two volunteers and I buy our groceries together and usually eat together. This is so nice because it splits up the duties of shopping and cooking. Sometimes it is not nice when we argue about what type of meat to buy or who should cook each night. Luckily, those small arguments do not happen too often.
Our kitchen consists of a fridge/freezer, microwave, sink, electric kettle, and two-burner hot plate. Unfortunately, there is not much to work with in the cooking department. However, we have become masters of the hot plate and can cook some pretty delicious (and fairly healthy!) meals.
The infamous kitchen.
A classic supper for us would be chicken (usually seasoned with “chicken spice” – pretty easy to remember when to use that…), some type of noodles (they usually take a while – I still haven’t seen our hot plate get hot enough to actually boil water), a sauce (usually made of tomato paste, some type of dry soup mix, water, onions, peppers, salt, and sometimes mushrooms if I get my way), and some type of vegetable (our favorites are broccoli and spinach). Sounds pretty good, right? Get this – it actually is!! I have become surprisingly good at cooking this meal. Unfortunately, it is still the ONLY meal I am good at. I have a feeling it may get old after a while.
Other than cooking for ourselves, there are many other options around. First of all, the mall is only about 2 km away, and there are a bunch of options there, including McDonald’s, KFC, pizza, burgers, etc. Although these are nice comforts from home, I tend to choose more South African things when I want to eat out. Probably my favorite South African fast food item is kota. Kota is a type of sandwich, and from what I understand, is mostly found here in Soweto. It is made of fluffy white bread, filled with seasoned chips (French fries), an egg, polony (a type of meat), burger, and cheese…. and probably about 4,000 calories. However, it is so delicious and only R11.50 (about $1.15)!
About to take my first bite of kota - a heavenly experience. :)
My other favorite food to buy here is chips (French fries) with salt, vinegar, and spice (I’m honestly not sure what the “spice” is, but it is some type of seasoning that kind of reminds me of seasoned salt). I have found the one shop that makes them exactly how I like them, so I have ignored the unhealthiness and bought them quite a few times so far. The small portion is R10 (about $1) and the big portion, which is twice the size, is R13 (about $1.30). I know the small would be enough for me, but why not spend the extra 3 rand to get twice as much, right?!
As for traditional food, I have tried quite a few things. One of the most common South African dishes that I have had is pap served with chicken or beef. Pap (pronounced like “pop” – it becomes very confusing when I forget and call soft drinks – or “cold drinks” here – pop and they think I am talking about pap) is made of mielie-meal (ground corn) and looks like mashed potatoes, in my opinion. It basically has no taste, but it works well to complement other dishes. I have had pap served with chicken or a type of beef stew. Sometimes, especially at large gatherings, such as a wedding or funeral, other sides are included as well. This can include potato salad, chakalaka (a mixture of vegetables, sometimes beans, and seasonings – sometimes very spicy, but super delicious), or other side salads.
Pap, chicken, and chakalaka. Photo cred: Google
Some of the more unique foods I have tried include tripe (cow stomach), achaar (an Indian food made of mango pickled in oil with other seasonings – VERY SPICY, and honestly not my favorite thing…), liver, and chicken neck. Some people say that I need to try mopane worms because they are so good, but others say I shouldn’t let them get anywhere near my mouth. We will just have to wait and see on that one. J
Achaar - a favorite of Sowetans, but not of me. Photo cred: Google
Overall, I have at least tried everything that was set in front of me. The running joke is that people should just tell me to try something, and then tell me what it was after I take a bite.
Food is such an important part of culture and I have been blessed to be able to try traditional foods while still keeping my stomach happy with peanut butter and jelly and other comforting items.
In the near future, I have been asked to cook some traditional American dishes (?), so if anyone has any ideas for me, I would be glad to hear about them!
P.S. For anyone that knows anything about South Africa, you will notice that I failed to discuss the classic South African braai. I did that on purpose, because I plan to devote a whole post to that one topic!