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Malawian Cuisine

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Malawi - Cooking and Food Edit

Overview of Malawian Cuisine HistoryEdit

Malawi is located at the southern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Rich in natural beauty and filled with a people who are gentile and friendly, the country of Malawi has long been known as the "warm heart of Africa." Despite of its natural riches, Malawi remains a very poor country. In this little country most people are subsistence farmers. This means they grow most of their own food in small gardens. If a family has extra food, they take it to market to trade for other necessities.

Malawi cuisine has remained largely free of culinary influences of the outside world, until the late 19th, with the exception of the use of cassava, Peanut, and chilli pepper plants which arrived along with the slave trade during the early 1500s. These foodstuffs have had a large influence on the local cuisine, but less on the preparation methods. Malawi cooking has remained mostly traditional. The staple food in Malawi is Nsima which is a thick maize porridge that is moulded into patties and served with either beans, meat, or vegetables collectively called Ndiwo. Other Malawian dishes are prepared with rice, cassava or potatoes. However, the keystone of any traditional Malawian meal is starch; the relish is a secondary element intended to give flavour to the food. Because the Malawi people have always been farmers, this meal is highly regarded because it gives the necessary energy to work in the field all day. However, this high carbohydrate diet can sometimes lead to weight gain, especially for women, who are more sedentary.

Cuisines of MalawiEdit

Map of Malawi

Map of Malawi- Click to enlarge

All over Malawi, the meal is composed of two main dishes: the starch (Nsima) and the relish (Ndiwo). While the recipe for starch is mostly the same all over Malawi, the relish is very different from region to region. In the east of Malawi, it is made mostly from vegetables, as meat is expensive and most people can’t afford it. The basic ingredients in this region are rice and foutou (massed plantain and cassava) and fufu (fermented cassava). A variety of local ingredients are used while preparing other dishes like spinach stew, cooked with tomato, peepers, chillies, onions and Peanut butter. cassava (manioc) plants are also consumed as green salad. A traditional recipe for the basic vegetable Ndiwo includes Onion, tomatoes and green vegetables, especially cassava.

The Malawi Lake is located in the west regions of Malawi. This lake is a great source for various types of Fish. There are many kinds of fish that live in the lake and the main types of fish are Chambo, Mlamba (Catfish), Usipa, and Kampango. The people that live around the lake use the fish to cook delicious relishes and other foods. A traditional Ndiwo made from fish is the Curried Chambo fish. The main ingredients for this dish are: fish fillets, lemon juice, flour, onions, curry powder, fruit chutney and carrots. Chambo (Tilapia fish) is the country’s specialty and the main lake delicacy. Another traditional food is Wali wa samaki, made from salmon, vermicelli, Onion, carrots, rice and seasonings.

Preparation Methods for Malawian Cooking Edit

Nsima-based food types made of finger millet, sorghum, cassava and maize are dominant in Malawi. No matter what is the main ingredient used to make Nsima, the preparation method is the same: you heat water in a medium-size cooking pot and sprinkle 3/4 cup of the corn meal into the pot while stirring continuously with a cooking stick. When the mixture begins to boil, you turn the heat to medium, cover the pot, and let simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. After that you pour into the rest of the corn meal and briskly stir with the cooking stick until smooth and thick. Cover the pot and let the mixture sit on the stove for another 3–4 minutes.

In the Malawian cuisine there are some exotic recipes based on insects. These dishes have different preparation methods than other dishes. Ana a Njuchi (wild bee larvae) are dried and then fried with salt and dried again. They are served as a relish or appetizer. To cook bwamnoni (large green bush crickets) you have to remove wings and horned part of legs. After that, boil them in water for five minutes, then dry in sun. Fry with a little salt and a little fat if desired. This dish is served as a relish. The nsensenya (shield bugs) are washed and fried with a little salt until they are brown and served as a relish. Malawians also eat rice, cassava, and potatoes, though rice is considered a luxury and potatoes are often used as Ndiwo.

Special Equipment for Malawian Cooking Edit

The Malawian cooking methods are basic ones and you don’t need any special equipment to cook any of the dishes in the Malawi cuisine. Your everyday cooking pots and pans are enough to cook a complete Malawian meal. However, if you want a true Malawian food experience, you should know that cooking is still done the traditional way in Malawi. In the vast majority of Malawian homes, food is cooked over a wood fire using a tripod made of three supporting stones. Women (and children helpers) are responsible for everything concerning the food from market shopping to dish washing. As Nsima is eaten with the hands, everyone washes in a communal bowl before and after the meal.

Many Malawians have mud stoves outside of the house, where they cook bread.

Since Nsima and Ndiwo are the essential elements of the Malawian cuisine, there are some special tools used when cooking these dishes. One of these tools is mthiko, the cooking stick that is specially made for cooking Nshima and Ndiwo.

Malawian Food Traditions and Festivals Edit

There are many old traditional celebrations that are still alive in the Malawian culture. At the end of the harvesting season ritual ceremonies are held, to thank the ancestral spirits for the good crop. During these ceremonies, the villagers offer food tributes (fruits and dishes cooked from the products harvested) to the gods. Dance plays an important role in the Malawian culture and it is a constant presence at all Malawian celebrations and festivals.

Food also plays an important role in all public holidays and celebrations. The most important Malawian public celebrations are: New Year’s Day (1st of January), Martyrs’ Day (March 3), Easter (April 14–17), Freedom Day (June 14), Republic Day (July 6) and Mother’s Day (October 9). An important thing to remember about the Malawian celebrations is that if a public holiday falls on a Saturday, the preceding day will be a holiday; if it falls on a Sunday, the next day will be a holiday. Sometimes public holidays are declared ad hoc or at short notice.

People in Malawian Food Edit

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In Malawi and all over Central Africa preparing and cooking of food are women’s responsibilities. They learn the art of cooking at very young ages by watching and helping their mothers. A good wife from Malawi should know how to cook delicious meals using whatever ingredients are at hand. Apart from Nshima, a woman has to know how to cook several types of Ndiwo. The common vegetables used as ingredients in relishes are: cassava leaves, sweet potato leaves, bean leaves, pumpkin leaves, cabbage, mustard leaves, rape leaves and kale leaves.

To earn extra money, women cook and sell a dish called Mandasi (a donut-like food). The main ingredients of Mandasi are flour, salt, baking powder, Sugar and eggs. The men in the Malawian families make beer from honey and from such grains as maize or millet. They also make wine from the sap of certain kinds of palm trees.

Malawians consider food essential to hospitality and go out of their way to feed a guest, even if they have very little to offer. If it isn’t a regular meal time, they’ll get some Nshima and Ndiwo from the fire for the guest to have an early (or late) meal. If it’s dinner time, the guest is shown an extra courtesy by being served first, followed by the man of the house, then the women and finally the children.

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