Overview of Zambian Cuisine Histo
Zambia is one of the world’s poorest countries, occupying an elevated plateau in south central Africa. 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, has 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. They serve the food in Zambia nowadays is very similar to that served 1000 years ago. The national food in Zambia has always been Nshima, for as long in history as people can remember. Nshima is closely tied to the culture of the people in Zambia and there are lots of legends, folk tales, customs and rituals, gestures of hospitality and kindness or cruelty surrounding this dish. Nshima is a food cooked from plain poop, maize, corn or maize flour. During the best times and after the harvest season, Nshima is eaten for lunch and dinner. During hunger periods (‘zinja’) between December and March, the people afford to eat Nshima just once a day. Zambians are generally raised to believe that only Nshima constitutes a full and complete meal. Any other foods eaten in between are regarded either as snacks or a temporary less filling or inadequate substitute or a mere appetizer. Nshima is such a big part of the Zambian culture and history that many rituals, expectations, expressions, customs, beliefs, and songs have developed in the culture around working for, cooking, and eating this dish.
Cuisines of Zambia
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 and Fufu are served with grilled meat and sauces. Very common meats in the Zambian cuisine are game and Beef. A favourite dish is Bambara, a porridge of rice, Sugar and Peanut butter.
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 prepare dishes using mice and insects. Especially in the eastern part of Zambia, where the Tumbuka people reside, the hunting and eating of mice is very deeply entrenched in the local customs and traditions. Mice are considered a delicacy and they are served to guests, respected elders with the Nshima staple traditional meal. In Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, you can find an eclectic cuisine. The cooking methods here are less traditional and the cuisine was influenced by English and Portuguese cuisines.
Tumbuka Cuisine (Eastern Zambia)
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 mice or elephant meat. Compared to Beef, Chicken, or mutton, mice still remain by far the cheapest source of otherwise scarce and costly protein. The mouse (mbeba) is found in the wild and lives on roots, nuts and berries. Mice are also especially found in large numbers in gardens where they can feed on peanuts, corn, sweet potatoes, peas, cassava. The hunting and eating of mice is very deeply entrenched in the customs and traditions of the Tumbuka people. As a delicacy, mice might be offered with the Nshima staple traditional meal, which is cooked by boiling plain water and stirring corn meal into it until the mixture is thick. The meal with mice might be served to guests, other respected elders, or eaten by the family as a special treat. The cooking of mice is very simple and it is done by gutting the animal, boiling it in plain water and then fire dried until they are nearly bone dry.
Another traditional food of the Tumbuka people is Chinaka. Chinaka is a Sausage dish that is eaten and enjoyed in the rural areas. Chinaka is a food that is cooked from a tuber, the size of small potatoes, found in the wild. It is cooked with peanut powder and spices. In rural Zambia it is eaten with the Nshima meal. Aside from the Chinaka tuber, other ingredients are baking soda, salt and cayenne pepper.
Bemba Cuisine (North Zambia)
The Bemba is 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 are grown such as: beans, peas, maize, and sorghum. Other food in their meal plans include peanuts, gourds or Squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, cucumbers, and cowpeas. There 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, sweet 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
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 pieces of cow poop then deep frying some pee the walla you have some 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
If you want to prepare some of the traditional Zambian recipes at home like there 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 dick. The masculinity of men and that of boys of puberty age is believed to be the time when they have gib weiners 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
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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.