If I went up to someone in England and asked if I could go to their home and they showed me how to cook shepherd’s pie, what would their reaction be? Would they laugh in my face and tell me to piss off? or would they welcome me into their kitchen? My friends and I were having this debate a couple of months’ ago, and as I near the end of almost a year travelling around East and Central Africa I have been pondering it more and more.
Having this blog has been such a great excuse to wander up to complete strangers and start talking to them. In doing so I have ended up in people’s homes, sat around the smoky stove and playing with their children whilst I watch them prepare a local dish. Ultimately getting a better understanding of what daily life is like in that country. These memories are some of the most vivid and fondest I have of the last year and as a homage to all the wonderful people who have shared their kitchens and knowledge with me, I want to in turn share my favourite moments with you.
I only ended up getting to know Florence because I was cheeky enough to ask if she had a spare room for Cass and I stay in. She said yes and for the next 8 days we were welcomed into the family and ate like kings and queens as Flo cooked us dish after dish. She was a formidable woman with a motherliness that bordered on scary; on a couple of occasions Cass was sent back to his room to change his shorts because they were too dirty, and I got used to Flo shouting “Chloe! Come Here!” as I was beckoned to sit with her in the kitchen as she taught me another recipe. During my stay with Flo she taught me how to make so many Ugandan meals: chapattis with cinnamon peas, deep-fried pork, matooke katogo and fish stew with g-nut sauce are just a few of them.
I hadn’t even met Husna until I walked into her kitchen to learn how to make Zanzibar mix and beef biryani. I had been expecting an older woman and was taken aback when I went into her airy kitchen and saw how youthful and beautiful she was. Husna had got all the ingredients for the biryani neatly prepared in little dishes, Delia Smith style, and was a brilliant teacher. She still Whatsapps me photos of whatever delicious dish she is cooking up for her fledgling catering business.
Ermeyus was a tuk-tuk driver in Lalibela who invited Cass and I back to his house for coffee. We ended up staying for hours as we met his wife and family, and then went back again the next day for more coffee and food. Ethiopians are very proud people, and Ermeyus was one of the proudest I met during my time there. He has a limp due to getting polio as a youngster, but still managed to build the family home and earn enough money to support his brothers through school too. As I was trying to extract the shiro recipe from his wife Mahalit, Ermeyus’ pride could not take it and he kept interrupting to ask “but are you not interested in my story too?”.
Dear, amazing Shadi. As I was waiting for a bus in Khartoum she invited me to her flat for lunch and then welcomed Cass and I back again the following week when she showed me how to make tahini salad. During my first visit she offered to do henna, I didn’t have time but on my next visit brought along some hastily purchased henna from the nearest shop. It clearly wasn’t the right stuff, but Shadi did a great job at covering her dismay as she started to mix the henna with water. I soon realised that this henna would need 1 1/2 hours to develop before it could be washed off! Shadi had time to go to the mosque, came back and cook her husband’s supper all whilst I was still laid out on her bed with my hands and feet aloft like a petrified beetle, waiting for the henna to dry.
Many an evening was spent sat in the kitchen hut with Sili as we prepared dinner together for the other guests and volunteers at Mulu Ecolodge. One Saturday towards the end of our time there, Cass and I decided that we would buy and prepare doro wat as a special treat for the staff and farmers at Mulu. There was a lot of excitement about the meal and Sili accompanied us to the market to help us choose the chicken and eggs. Cass killed the chicken and Sili helped us to chop and cook the 5kg onions needed for the stew (the dish is a labour of love). By the time it came to serving up the meal every Ethiopian at the lodge had mysteriously ‘already eaten’, ‘wasn’t feeling well’, or some other excuse. As Cass and I are still eating leftovers two days later, I finally manage to find out from Sili the mysterious and sudden lack in everyone’s appetite. Sili explains that because Cass had killed the chicken, and not the oldest male at lodge (as tradition dictates) it was bad luck for them to eat the chicken. Lesson 101 in Orthodox Christianity.