When I was ten years old growing up in Botswana we once had Ben VeryBritishSurname stay over for the night at our house. We all liked Ben and my brothers were happy that they’d get to gang up on me with someone who had no real reason to dislike me.
We pressed Mama into making us chips and sausages, which we were quite ready to call “bangers” even though we were not quite sure why. I led the call for chips and bangers, specifically because I wanted to go back to school and say I too had had chips and sausages last night. A Motswana family I knew had a food schedule and on Tuesdays it was chips and sausages for the kids. In the Mnthali household we rarely ate “white people food”.
Ben was upset when he saw a plate of chips and sausages in front of him at supper time. “Mrs Mnthali! Can I have some inseema please?” My mother she smiled as though a child hadn’t refused to eat. She divided his plate between her own happy children and, asking him to be patient and wait to eat with her and my father, went to make nsima, beef stew and vegetables. We were happily eating white people food while our European friend waited patiently for “inseema”.
The “inseema” in question was nsima, our staple food and something my father swears he could eat every day. Most Southern Africans eat maize meal as a staple. Pap, phuthu, nsima, nshima, sadza – all names for basically the same thing. We differentiate by texture or firmness. Zimbabwean sadza is considered much thicker than others, while Malawians like it soft but not fluffy, like South African phuthu. I think it also varies from home to home. At home we served it with beef stew or fish in a peanut sauce and vegetables (usually fresh, sometimes dried leafy greens, cooked with onions and tomatoes or in a peanut sauce) It goes with many savoury items.
When I was alerted to the fact that a young Zimbabwean woman had brought Sadza to Masterchef UK I couldn’t contain my excitement. I screamed at Greg and John as if this is the Zimbabwean Noma I actually know. I told them, weeks after and thousands of miles away and not at all within earshot, that they can’t call Jacob’s Tunisian dish “an Aladdin’s cave of flavours” just because Orientalism. The shape of my mouth when John said that: O
What were they going to say about Noma’s sadza? ”It’s maize meal, I worry that it doesn’t taste of anything”
Pasta doesn’t taste of anything! Rice doesn’t taste of anything! Bread doesn’t taste of anything. Watercress, leeks… there are a number of things in white people food that just don’t taste of anything.
But there was Noma saying she was cooking sa (as my Zim cousins call it) and just proud and smiling. This was one of those moments in food-watching history that was going to be forever etched in my mind.
And her dish made it to the next round. Her short ribs were cooked to perfection, her creamed spinach may or may not have gone with the meat, but the sadza was there. Round, big, white and proudly presented.
So what did Greg and John have to say? Greg said the sadza was just there to mop up the meat and vegetables, like rice. We may differ on that. All in all they were very complimentary and I was happy for her.
I get too nervous when I have to watch some competitions. Especially when I’m too invested in the outcome. I couldn’t even watch the next round on the same day. I watched it a week later and was thrilled she made it to the quarter-finals. She wasn’t the first to put sadza on Masterchef but she did very well. Masterchef is not easy!
Here’s Shamiso on US Masterchef:
Noma made me think once again about how attached we are to certain notions about our own versus other people’s food. The pride we place in ourselves carries in everything we do, including what we eat. Not that we can’t eat “white people food” but that there’s joy in having been brought up eating “organic” and fresh from the garden way before it was cool. There’s joy in eating plain and healthy, in eating local, because of where you come from or live, and taking that with you wherever you are. We know there’s food hierarchy, even on this continent, with outsiders even telling us which region has the best (for my money it’s Southern Africa and the Seychelles. Fight me.)
Noma just made me so proud. It was beautiful to watch.