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Zambian Cuisine

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Overview of Zambian Cuisine History Edit

Map of Zambia

Map of Zambia- Click to enlarge

Zambia is one of the Africa's most peaceful countries and is richly endowed with natural resources, occupying an elevated plateau in south central Africa. It's economy is relatively weak. Zambia’s geographical location kept it free of European and foreign influences until the 19th century. Copper, one of the country’s most important natural resources, had begun drawing European settlers in the early years of the 20th century. Because of Zambia’s isolation from the rest of the world for the greater part of its history, its cuisine has stayed very traditional.

Historically, the Zambian taste and use of ingredients has not changed a great deal. Before intercontinental trade started at a wide scale, the most important vegetable food staples were rice, sorghum and millet.The British influenced eating and drinking habits, importing new breeds of sheep, goats and cattle. They also planted high-quality coffee.

In general European explorers and traders introduced several important food staples to the country, after their first journeys to America and Asia. Important staples, which had been cultivated by the Indian cultures of the Americas, found their way to the "old continents". Beans, cassava, groundnuts, maize, tomatoes and sweet potatoes thus were introduced to Zambia and indeed Africa as a whole as a direct cause of the European exploring of the American continent. Asian seasonings like pepper, cinnamon, clove, curry and nutmeg were introduced as well.

Today the principal food crops are cereals; millet, sorghum, rice and maize. Root crops such as cassava, sweet potato and yams(though rare) are also important locally. Perennial cash crops include both groundnuts and soybeans.

The Zambian diet as with most parts in Africa is heavy on starches. The predominant staple food in most parts of Zambia has always been Nshima although in the western parts rice has been the staple food. Nshima is a food cooked from finely ground maize. In other instances it can also be prepared from Cassava flour, sorghum and millet. Nshima is eaten at any time of day and all year round regardless of season. It is usually served with a variety of vegetables and meat/fish.

Cuisines of Zambia Edit

Zambian cuisine has remained largely free from outside influences until the 19th century. However, the Zambian foods contain ingredients like cassava, Peanut, and chilli pepper. Starchy foods like Nshima are served with grilled/stewed meat and vegetables . Very common meats in the Zambian cuisine are chicken and Beef, while game is also served as and when available.

Even if in Zambia reside over 70 tribes, each with its own culture and dialect, the Zambian cuisine is relatively homogeneous. Among the biggest tribes in Zambia is The Benmba tribe, living in the north and centre of the country. The Chewa, Ngoni and Nsenga tribes reside in the east of the country while the Bantu tribes are concentrated in the west of the country. The people of these tribes live mostly in rural areas and their traditional dishes include Nshima, Ifisashi. On special occasions people brew beer. Especially in the eastern part of Zambia, where the Tumbuka people reside, the hunting and eating of small game animals is very deeply entrenched in the local customs and traditions. Mice especially are considered a delicacy.&nbsp In urban areas like Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, you can find an eclectic cuisine. The cooking methods here are less traditional and the cuisine is influenced by English,Arab,Indian and Portuguese cuisines.

Tumbuka Cuisine (Eastern Zambia) Edit

The Tumbuka tribe is located in the eastern regions of Zambia. Their food is very traditional and you can find here exotic dishes made from game and vegetables. Like most tribes in Zambia, most Tumbuka men in rural eastern province are more hunters than farmers, thus most of the meat coming into the house is hunted game meat which is eaten fresh but preferably sun dried such as wild pig or hog, buffalo, impala etc, fresh and dried fish, beef, chicken, pork, guinea fowl.

All sun dried game meat is cooked first by continuous boiling to soften the meat. When the meat is nearly firm-tender, some oil is added to the meat, fried till golden brown. Tomatoes and onions are then chopped, added to the sizzling, frying meat and cooked together until a lovely tomato and onion soup starts to thicken. Enough water is added to the pot to let the dish simmer for another half an hour in order for the meat to absorb and flavour the entire dish.

Another popular delicacy of the Tumbuka people is a dish called "Village Chicken". These are free-range chickens which normally roam around the village huts, scavenging for food, usually discarded corn kernels, nuts and shells. The meat on this type of chicken is usually very tough meat indeed which requires quite a lot of cooking time. The most tastiest of these chickens is the cock, a massive chicken with quite long and meatier limbs. After the chicken is slaughtered, cleared of feathers and innards, it is cut into several pieces which are placed into a large, steel pot. A lot of water is poured into the pot, enough to submerge the entire chicken and left to boil. The process of boiling the meat is time consuming and usually ranges from four to six hours depending on the toughness of the meat. Once the desired tenderness of the chicken is achieved, which is usually done by prodding the chicken with a wooden spoon. Once satisfied with the texture, the chicken pieces (still white in color, as they are not fried) are placed onto a plate to be cooked later. Village chickens in nature have quite a lot of natural fat but there are some which are devoid of fat, thus some oil is poured into the empty pot until it becomes hot. Tomatoes and onions are then chopped up and introduced into the sizzling oil. Its important to note here that some villagers do have access to green peppers thus, some love this dish with green peppers. After the tomatoes and onions have become a thick soup, village curry (also known as tumeric) is dusted into the soup, giving it a rich reddish-yellow glow. Water is then added to the dish and the chicken pieces put back into the pot for simmering, turning the mixture over and over until all the chicken pieces assume the vibrant, rich color. The dish is left to simmer for fifteen minutes before being served with rape and nshima.

A beloved vegetable delicacy of the Tumbukas which is unfortunately seasonal is wild mushrooms in crushed or pounded peanuts (note that these are pounded peanuts and not peanut butter, which would give it a whole different taste all together). During the rainy season, wild mushrooms in Lundazi especially in chief Magodi's area are plentiful during the wet season. The sight is magnificent to see because these mushrooms literally spring up during the night! The ground is usually awash with acres and acres of white, umbrella like mushroom which appear to grow in front of your eyes as the hours pass. The mushrooms are picked, and placed into a large bowl. Note here that these types of mushrooms are pretty deceptive; they appear large but once cooked, usually shrink down in size thus its important to get enough for a meal to feed everybody. The skin of the mushroom is then peeled off, a process which is time consuming but well worth it. After all the skins are peeled off, the mushrooms are washed and chopped and placed into a steel pot to cook. Note that no water is placed with the mushrooms. The mushrooms are still damp from the washing and once it comes to a boil, some salt is added to the pot to taste. A cupful or two, depending on the quantity of the mushrooms, is then added to the pot and mixed together with a wooden spoon. The mixture is left to boil for twenty minutes and the smell is usually amazing! The food is then ready to serve with a steaming plate of hot nshima.

Bemba Cuisine (North Zambia) Edit

The Bemba are the largest ethnic group in the Northern Province of Zambia. The Bemba live in rural villages built for inherited extended families. Their main job is a type of subsistence farming in the form of shifting cultivation. Each family grows its own food and is very self-sufficing. The main crops are finger millet and cassava. Other foods grown are beans, peas, maize, and sorghum. Other food in their meal plans include peanuts, gourds or Squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, cucumbers, and cowpeas. Their diet is based mostly on vegetarian dishes and they eat meat at special occasions. One of the most popular dishes is Ifisashi. It consists of peanuts, tomatoes, onion, collard greens, pumpkin leaves, wet potato leaves, spinach and cooked cabbage. Meat can be added. This dish is usually served with Nshima. Samp is another traditional recipe that is very easy to make. It only has two ingredients: hominy and dried beans. Kibbutz salad is another Bemba dish, very popular among Zambians. It is a mixture of vegetables that can be served with Nshima. Its main ingredients are cucumber, tomatoes, lemon, red pepper, garlic, Sugar and chopped parsley. Bemba women collect honey and insects like caterpillars and grasshoppers, which they use as ingredients in many dishes. Here is a simple recipe for caterpillars: in salted water boil until tender a pound of fresh, dried, or smoked caterpillars. In a separate pot, boil greens (spinach, collards, or similar) until fully cooked; add hot peppers, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper to taste. Serve the caterpillars over a bed of greens.

Preparation Methods for Zambian Cooking Edit

Traditional preparation methods include steaming food in leaf wrappers (banana or corn husks), boiling, frying in oil, grilling beside a fire, roasting in a fire, or baking in ashes. Because Nshima is the most common dish in Zambia, there are a lot of preparation methods for it. . There is a kind of Nshima that is cooked from cassava meal (Sima ya Chikhau or Chinangwa), sorghum meal (Sima ya Chidomba) and finger millet meal (Sima ya Kambala). Nshima can be cooked from any grain and tubers that can be transformed into meal or flour. Nshima yibilsi (raw Nshima) and Nshima ya mgayiwa (cooked from corn or maize that is not hand processed) are other variations for this Zambian dish.

Usually, Nshima is served with Ndiwo (a relish cooked from domestic and wild meats that include Beef, goat, mutton, Deer, buffalo, elephant, warthog, wild pig, mice, rabbits or hare, antelope, turtle, alligator or crocodile, monkey, Chicken eggs and green vegetables). There are three basic methods of cooking Ndiwo: the first involves boiling all fresh meat, fish and available vegetables in plain water; the second is made using exotic meats such as mice, termite ants, caterpillars, and certain birds like baby doves that are strictly roasted and fire dried; the third and most common involves using two special ingredients: chidulo (made from burning dry banana leaves, Peanut leaves, or pea leaves, bean stalks and leaves or dry maize stalks and leaves) and kutendela (peanut powder).

Special Equipment for Zambian Cooking Edit

If you want to prepare some of the traditional Zambian recipes at home you don't need any special equipment besides your normal pots, stew pans and storage containers. You might use a wooden spoon because it enhances the flavour of the food. However, Zambians use a traditional cooking equipment to prepare their meals. Because most people live in rural areas, without electricity, gas or running water, most of them cook like their parents and grandparents did before them. Fuels used for cooking in households in Zambia are firewood, charcoal, kerosene, cow dung, and crop residues. While charcoal is the main fuel for cooking in urban areas, wood is predominantly used in rural areas. Cooking devices used are: three stones fireplace, metal charcoal stoves, improved charcoal stoves, and electric cookers (in the urban areas).

Shelled sorghum is dried for two weeks before cooking in a storage bin made from wood and grass. Shelling maize is usually done by a hand-driven shelling machine.

A special cooking tool that can be found in the Zambian kitchen is the biltong box, which is used for drying out large strips of meat. Small salads are sometimes served in coconut in the Zambian households.

Mthiko is the cooking stick that is specially made for cooking Nshima and Ndiwo. The significance of the mthiko cooking stick is reflected in the beliefs and customs of the people. Men and boys are traditionally prohibited from using or eating off of the stick. The masculinity of men and that of boys of puberty age is believed to be compromised if they use the cooking stick in this manner. A woman’s femininity is often also measured, among other criteria, by how well she cooks or ‘handles the mthiko cooking stick’.

People in Zambian Food Edit

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Because Zambia is mostly a rural country, there aren’t many local chefs in the true meaning of the word. Mostly everything related to preparing the food is done by women. Because the Nshima dish is eaten everyday by the people of Zambia, the Ndiwo served with it is the only thing that brings variation to the everyday meals. Finding a different type of ndiwo or relish for each day’s meals is one of the most demanding tasks for all mothers and housewives in Zambia. This responsibility challenges the women’s creativity every day. When the family is very poor, the same Ndiwo is sometimes served for several days in a row. This makes the family bored with the meal, which is every mother and wife's nightmare. The condition of eating the same type Ndiwo with Nshima for more than four consecutive meals and feeling bored with it is known as ichintendo. When the kutinkha state is achieved, the woman is blamed. To avoid this, the housewife has to be very creative and to cook one type of Ndiwo one day and a different one the following day. Nshima with Ndiwo is the most important meal and it is so embedded in the traditional culture of the people that it features very prominently in the languages, expressions, tales of hospitality and wisdom and folk tales. When you are a guest in a Zambian’s house, refusing to eat completely is considered rude unless you are close acquaintances or good friends with your hosts. Even if you are full, you always have to eat everything the host puts in your plate. If you do not, you are considered impolite.

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