Ugandan Street Food & Cheap Local Eats

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It may not seem like an obvious place for it, but the street food scene in Uganda is live and kicking. Town centres, bus stations and roadsides are full of people selling chapatis, grilled chicken, maize and a glorious bounty of fruit and vegetables – avocadoes bigger than your hand or seven different types of mango. Young men wander the streets with buckets of mendazi, sambusa and boiled eggs, and women sell sim-sim (as sesame biscuit), peanuts and fried maize by the bag.

If you need something heartier, behind every market is a treasure trove of very cheap, local restaurants. If you’re in Kampala then the Kamwokwa Market close to Fat Cat Backpackers is a good place to start. Women have several pots full of posho, matooke katogo, beans, meat stew or g-nuts with fish, all boiling away on charcoal stoves whilst workers sit at the communal table and benches eating their food. Wash it down with a glass of fresh cocktail juice and you will be very satisfied.

Here is a list of my favourite street eats from Uganda, and a rough cost for them. 1000 UGX is about 20p, or 27 cents.

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Chapatis are eaten all over East Africa and Uganda is no exception. In every town and on every roadside you can find men rolling out and frying chapatis from the early hours. They are pretty filling and cost around 500 UGX. Best eaten fresh.
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Whilst chapatis can be found all over the region, only Uganda has the unique ‘Rolex’ – an omelette (usually with tomato and cabbage) rolled up in a chapati and eaten like a wrap. The snack is such a symbol that the country even has its own annual Rolex Festival.  Greasy, but fills a hole at the end of the night. Around 1500 UGX
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All over Uganda there are local authority owned ‘service stations’ run by local men and women. Chicken legs are grilled over hot coals and sold by the hundreds every day.  A more expensive snack at 2500 UGX, but if you want cheaper then they also sell chicken gizzards.
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Also sold at the service stations are  these ‘genjo’ bananas, which are grilled. You can also buy grilled cassava and tastes great with a bit of salt or piri piri powdered over it. 200-500 UGX
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Pork joints are the place to go for a proper sit down meal (2kgs pork with sides cost 25000 UGX) but if you want something on the fly (and aren’t picky about which part of the pig you’re eating) then head to the road-side grillers for a skewer at about 600 UGX.
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Maize, sold by women in towns, behind markets and along the roadside. They are much drier and less sweet than the corn of the cobs in the UK, but a relatively filling and healthy option. 500 UGX
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EGGS! Young men carry around buckets full of boiled eggs for 100 UGX each. They helpfully wait whilst you peel your egg and add some salt or spicy pepper. You’re most likely to find them at bus and taxi stations or walking round the markets.
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Sambusa – a version of the Indian ‘samosa’ and found in many parts of East Africa. The Ugandan sambusas mostly come in two varieties 1) mince meat and a bit of spice 2) cow peas and onions. Between 200 – 500 UGX.
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Mendazi, again, found in most East African countries and are a deep-fried sweet dough ball. They’re commonly a morning snack and mostly sold around the markets and bus stations for between 200 – 500 UGX. 
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Lots of little chai shops are open only in the morning serving African tea – a sweet milky tea made with ginger and other spices. Most chai stands will also have boiled eggs, mendazi and sambusa for sale on the counter.
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‘Cocktail juice’ is for sale in most local restaurants and cafes and is usually a mix of two of the following – passion fruit, orange or pineapple. If they’re making it fresh then (if you want) ask them not to add sugar. 1000 UGX
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These don’t need much introduction, but well worth a mention as the pineapples in Uganda are the best pineapples I have ever tasted in my life. Men push bikes like these around the town all day, and are relatively easy to spot, but if not then head to the market. Range between 1000 and 2000 UGX depending on size.
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Jack fruits are weird, smelly, sticky alien fruits that completely won me over (because of all the above). The fruit itself tastes astonishingly like candy. They are notoriously sticky so if you don’t want to deal with the fallout then you can buy pre-prepared bags of the fruit and eat it daintily with a cocktail stick. Not cheap though, about 1000 UGX for a small bag.
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You can get hearty and cheap meals like this for 1000 – 2500 UGX in most local food places. Posho and beans (pictured), katogo, goat stew, g-nuts and fish usually frequent the menus.
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If you want to get pissed on the cheap then head to a local bar for ‘bushera’ a home-brewed beer made from fermented sorghum. It’s also confusingly called porridge, which is essentially what it is. It’s also very filling, so if you want something lighter try the banana beer, made from matooke. Bushera is 500 UGX for 1 litre and Banana Beer more like 600 UGX. If you really like it, a drinks company has now started selling it in supermarkets.
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A common breakfast  in Uganda is sweetened maize porridge with ‘pancakes’ that are made from millet flour and bananas. The pancakes can be bought separately from markets.

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Ugandan fried pork with all the trimmings

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The pork joint in Kabale

Pork is a big deal in Uganda. Every trading centre and town has at least one ‘pork joint’, a place to go with friends for beers, fried pork and all the sides and it’s not uncommon to see whole ears, snouts or just the face of a pig being roasted and sold by street vendors on the side of the road. One town we stayed in you could hear the chilling squeals of pigs being slaughtered at the same time every day. The pork joints look vibrant, sociable, smoky and delicious, so when Boaz, a guy we had met via two Auzzie girls in Kampala, offers to take us to his favourite local pork joint I jump at the chance. I’ve only a week left in Uganda and don’t want to leave before eating at one of these bad boys.

The place we head to is the ‘Kekube International Pork Centre’, ran by a woman called Caroline with the help of her five children. It’s Boaz’ favourite because “the spice mix is better than other joints in town and the pork is fresh”. Pleasing my Western sensibilities, it also comes with a large array of vegetables – salads, cooked cabbage, and potatoes and matooke which are cooked in pork fat. Once again, I go behind the scenes to the kitchen and find out the recipe. This is a rib-sticker of a feast best enjoyed with plenty of friends and cold beers.

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Boaz getting excited about the porky feast!
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Some of Caroline’s children who helped out at the pork joint

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Eating meat out is a new thing for Boaz and something reserved for when he’s working in Kabale town. Growing up, in the village outside of town, his family only ate meat about three times a year – always at Christmas and when his father or someone else in the village slaughtered an animal and the whole community would join in the feasting. Meat days were special and a good opportunity for his parents to make them work harder in anticipation of the meal at the end of it, “no meat until you collect the firewood”, the African version of “no telly until you’ve finished your supper”, I suppose.

There is one day from Boaz’ childhood he remembers particularly well, the day his sister’s boyfriend came over to ask for her hand in marriage and negotiate the bridal price. In Ugandan culture dowries are still a thing, once the amount has been agreed between the bride’s parents and husband-to-be a date is set for when the goods will be delivered, this is known as the ‘Introduction’; only after the Introduction can the marriage take place. Often, the bridal price is so large that it takes the man a long time to save enough money. One man I spoke to bought his wife for 24 crates of beer, 24 crates of soda, four cows and eight sacks of maize flour, it took him so long to acquire that they already had two children by the time he married his wife. Similarly, Boaz’s sister was also already pregnant and she and her boyfriend were keen to be married soon.

As tradition dictates, it is down to the woman’s family to lay on a feast for the husband-to-be and the ensuing negotiations. Boaz, only 14 at the time, remembers the excitement and sense of occasion in his home at the time: animals had been slaughtered and were roasting, frying and stewing in various pots and fires in the kitchen and backyard; jerrycans of ‘Bushera’ – a beer made from sorghum – had been brewed; posho, matooke, sweet potato, irish potatoes and beans, were being boiled, mashed and mingled; and special, rare dishes of vegetables and fruit were also being prepared. Boaz had never been exposed to such a cornucopia of food and drink, “all around me there was every type of food” he remembers “I had to eat and drink it all, not one bit managed to leave the kitchen without me trying it first”. The excitement and alcohol were so great for 14 year old Boaz that by the time his father asked him to go herd the cattle that afternoon, he took himself off to the neighbours loo beforehand, but fell asleep in it! Boaz was M.I.A for hours and it fell to his neighbour to bring in the cattle.

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Cass and I stayed with Boaz’ family in his village on the hills overlooking Lake Bunyonyi
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His mother (left) prepared a delicious Sunday lunch for us, which we enjoyed with his brothers
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His sister has a 22 year old son and another baby girl (pictured), but never married
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Boaz’ gradnfather

Despite Boaz’ “shameful” behaviour, a bridal price was agreed and a date set for three months hence when the boyfriend would bring over the booty. Tragically, the wedding never took place, the boyfriend caught a kidney infection only two months afterwards and died that Christmas. Boaz’ sister gave birth to a boy who never got to meet his father and now, more than 22 years’ later his sister is still unmarried.

Now grown up, and only slightly more able to handle his drink, Boaz eats meat much more regularly. Living with his brother in town, they and friends will often go to the pork joint on a Friday night then out to Mist Bar for a boogie. Sometimes they go after beers – “no more than three though”.

The recipe below is the pork we had at ‘International Pork Joint’. I’ve also added another type of pork we had at the Kaluya’s, you can choose which, or all three method you want to do.

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Recipe for fried pork with all the sides

Serves 6

Ingredients

4kg pork ribs

8 tomatoes

2 onions

Stock cube

Skewers

1 garlic bulb

Palm sized chunk of root ginger

5 chillies

For the sides:

1 green cabbage

2 tomatoes

2 red onions

4 medium potatoes

4 matooke

Lots of pork fat or other cooking oil

Method

Firstly, make sure the pork ribs are cut into bite-size and skewerable-size pieces. Ask the butcher to do this.

For the deep-fried pork: pulverise the garlic, ginger and chillies together in a pestle and mortar, or using the end of a rolling pin. Add salt and a little oil then using your hands rub the mixture into the pork making sure the meat is also covered with the marinade. Cover and leave to marinade for at least 3 hours. Fill a medium-sized saucepan with cooking oil and heat. Once it is sizzling add the pork in batches and fry until very dark brown and crispy.

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Fried pork

For the fried pork: Place a large saucepan over high heat and add a little oil. Once sizzling add the pork and fry for a couple of minutes. Add roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, stock cube and salt and fry together for a further 10 minutes. Use a spatula to encourage the tomatoes to break up and create a paste in the pan.

For the roasted pork: Season the pork pieces and put onto skewers. Cook over hot coals, BBQ or in the oven.

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For the sides: Using the same oil used to deep-fry the pork, place the potatoes and matooke (whole and unpeeled) into the pan and allow them to cook on a high heat  until cooked. The potatoes will take about 10 minutes but the matooke will need a little longer. To encourage the matooke to cook, split the skin of the banana from end to end.

Shred the cabbage and finely slice the tomatoes and onions. Mix together with a little salt and some lemon.

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Matooke cooks in the fat until soft
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Shredded cabbage

(Authentic) serving suggestion: Place the pork, potatoes, matooke and cabbage on a large sharing platter and eat communally with your hands. Drinking a nice cold beer at the same time is a must, if you can get your hands on ‘Club’, ‘Nile Special’ or ‘Bell’ beers then even better.

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Recipe for Ugandan spiced fish stew with peanut and aubergine sauce

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The Kaluyah’s – Back row (l-r): Florence, Mr Kaluyah, Bosco,                                                                      Middle row: Matilda, Anette, Florence, Nina, Mama                                Sitting: Angela, Patrick, Keira

This blog is about how a chance encounter with a banana seller and some bold questioning led to an unforgettable week staying with a family of Ugandan farmers and a fish stew to die for. Read on for the story and recipe.

I’m on the hunt for a guesthouse in a small town outside of Jinja when two mamas selling bananas from bowls delicately balanced on their heads approach, “would you like to buy some bananas?” one of them asks. I’m immediately struck by how English she sounds. We already had bananas, so I tell her so, “Ah, you’re English!” the woman exclaims “whereabouts are you from?”, conversation ensues, and it turns out that the woman, Florence, lived in London for eight years. I feel reassured by her and before I know it the words “do you have a spare room?” are out my mouth. “I don’t, but let us go ask Mama”, so off we walk, back to the main street until we reach a large compound with gates.

Walking round to the back of the compound I see a man carving up a ginormous jack fruit and handing round pieces to the various people sitting around on plastic chairs or stretched out lazily on the grass. Gospel music is blaring out from a radio on an old man’s lap and there are several babies tottering around from adult to adult. Bushels of beans are spread out across the courtyard drying in the sun and pieces of cassava are scattered around waiting to be ground into flour later. In the middle is ‘Mama’, dressed in a colourful Ugandan dress with matching headpiece and sitting on a chair in the shade of an orange tree.

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Mama holding court and watching over proceedings in the constant hive of activity that was the compound yard.

Cass and I sit down next to Mama Kaluya as Florence explains to her that we are volunteering in the area and looking for a place to stay. Evident by the amount of people Mama has already taken in to her home and the added fact that we are ‘mzungus’ (whites), which embarrassingly somehow gives us automatic royalty status, I’m feeling optimistic about our chances. Luckily, I’m right and Mama takes no time at all in agreeing to have us. It’s arranged that we will be back the following morning to drop off our bags on the way to work and will stay for the following week.

Turns out asking Florence if she had a spare room was one of the best moves of my trip so far. The Kaluyas are a wealthy farming family with several large patches of land spanning hundreds of kilometres and going back several generations; some of their 40 acres “gardens” as far as 80 kms away. Mr Kaluya started as an accountant, but by his early 50’s had given it up as he was “making more money from cows” than book-keeping. Now 92, Mr Kaluya spends his days listening to the radio and work is divided up between Mama and her six children, their days spent checking up on various pieces of land and supervising work being carried out. Everyone is actively involved, even “the pharmacist” son who lives in the UK phones every few days to check up on his goats and eucalyptus.

Each evening a fraction of the food produced on Kaluya land is brought back to the compound where it is either dried, ground, stored, eaten, killed, sold or cooked. The home is constantly busy, farm vehicles are being unloaded or repaired out the front, thrashing and drying in the back yard, and visitors coming and going. In the evening the conversation is about how well the soya is doing, or how to deal with a cow’s skin disease.

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Mr Kaluyah – always wearing a smile and never far from his radio.

At the centre of it all is Mama, who when not out inspecting land is in her chair in the back garden overseeing the whole shooting match. Mama knows everything going on and one word from her absolutely must be obeyed. When we go to church on the Sunday, Mama is greeted by everyone and sits pride of place on the front pew, the 300 strong congregation behind. Spending time with Mama is a bit like being with some benevolent mafia matriarch.

For eight days Cass and I were welcomed into the Kaluya’s family home and for eight days we ate like Henry VIII, gorging ourselves on the plethora of home-cooked dishes and food that was constantly available and being served up. Oranges, avocadoes, jack-fruit and bananas were always available, great hunks of watermelon and pineapples would be carved up and shared round in the late afternoon, and mangoes would be delivered from the nearest farm by the bucket load. One day I ate five in a row. They soon realised I was into food and relished it, each day cooking a different Ugandan dish: ‘g-nut’ (peanuts) sauce, mzungu drink, fresh steamed milk with cinnamon, matooke, cassava, sweet potatoes, home-made chapati, cow pea stew, katogo, posho. On our last night we had a ‘Ugandan BBQ’ with the best pork I think I have ever eaten. The household was an absolute gold-mine for trying and learning about honest, home-cooked Ugandan food.

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The incredible wood fired stove that alongside several smaller portable charcoal stoves, is used to create delicious Ugandan fare.

One Sunday after church the whole family gathered in the back garden for a particularly delicious meal of spiced fish and rice with a side of aubergine and peanuts. As we sat around in the garden, eating the food from our laps and sipping on a cold beer, I had one of those ‘life is amazing’ moments and made a pact with myself to talk to strangers more, as the saying goes ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’.

The fish used in the dish was ‘yellow fish’ which as far as I can tell is only found in Africa. But fear not! This dish would work well with cod, huss or any other fish robust enough to not fall apart after 45 minutes of stewing.

Whilst we were with the Kaluya’s we helped them create a profile on Home Stay so they can take in more visitors. So if you’re in or thinking about travelling to Uganda, why not go and stay with them too?!

Spiced fish stew with aubergine and peanut sauce

Serves 12

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Ingredients

50 ml vegetable oil

2 large sticks of cinnamon

3 onions

6 large tomatoes

7 garlic cloves

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tbsp cloves

2 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 stock cube

2 kg fish cut into 12 pieces

Water

1 kg baby aubergines

500g peanuts

1 tbsp curry powder

1.5 litres water

 

Method

This is all cooked on a high heat and requires constant stirring at the beginning, so get ahead of the game and start by preparing your veggies.

Peel and crush the garlic cloves using the end of a rolling pin or a pestle and mortar, don’t use a garlic crusher. Peel, half and thinly slice the onions and roughly dice the tomatoes.

Place a large heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole dish on high heat and add the oil. Once the oil begins to steam add the cinnamon sticks and stir for 1 minute or until the cinnamon has released its flavour and you can smell the lovely aroma.

Next add the onions to the cinnamon oil and continue to cook on a high heat until the onions are a deep golden brown. Don’t be afraid if they are cooking faster than usual, they’re meant to have some crisp (see photo below). Add the bashed garlic cloves and tomatoes and cook everything together for a further minute, still stirring.

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The onions cooking on high heat
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smooshing everything down to form a paste

Add cloves, cumin seeds and crumbled stock cube to the saucepan. Stir a little more then using the end of a rolling pin or the back of a spoon, smoosh everything in the pan so it becomes more like a paste. Continue to stir everything together for another couple of minutes.

Place your pieces of fish into the saucepan, include any bones and other bits as this will improve the flavour. Add just enough water to cover the fish then add the ground cinnamon and some salt. Give everything one final, gentle stir.

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Keeping the heat high, bring the whole pot to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cover. Leave to simmer away gently on the heat for about 45 mins to 1 hour, or until the fish is cooked. Take care not to disturb the fish whilst it’s cooking and break up the pieces.

Whilst the fish is gently bubbling away make the sauce. Chop the aubergine up into small pieces and place into a pan of briskly boiling unsalted water. Cook until they are soft then drain the pan, putting the cooking liquid to one side.

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Aubergine and ground peanuts

Blitz the peanuts in a blender until a smooth paste. Transfer the peanuts into a bowl then using some of the aubergine water work the peanuts into a looser mixture.

Add the peanut mixture, more aubergine water and curry powder to the aubergines and bring the while mixture to a gentle simmer. Depending on how thick you want the sauce you can do two things now: add more water and/or mash down the aubergine pieces into the sauce. It’s completely up to you how thick or saucy you want this to be and whether you would rather your aubergines in there or have them disguised amongst the peanuts. Taste the sauce and season as necessary

Serve the fish stew with some steamed rice. The Kaluyas had the peanut sauce dolloped on top of the fish stew, but you could also serve it as a side dish.

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Posho and Beans

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Eric, Emma 2, Erisa, Ernest and Dennis 2 enjoying a well deserved break

At Kibebe Primary School and almost every other primary school in Uganda, ‘posho and beans’ is the lunchtime meal, eaten by everyone, every day of the week, for as long as anyone can remember. Posho is a Ugandan staple, made by ‘mingling’ maize flour with water until it becomes something that resembles a solid lump of mashed potato. It may not sound appealing, but when eaten with a delicious dish of spiced, stewed beans it becomes something else.

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I’m here at the school helping a group to build a water-tank, made using a special interlocking brick that is more sustainable than the ordinary kiln-fired ones. The builders I’m working with have gone through a special training programme thanks to Haileybury Youth Trust (HYT) – young men are trained up to use this sustainable construction method and once graduated are employed to carry out community projects, it’s a win-win-win situation. HYT won an Ashden Award last year, which is how I came to hear about them, and how I eventually wind up on site in a hard hat and high vis, mixing cement, eating posho and beans with my hands and trying in every way possible not to stick out like a white woman on a construction site in Uganda.

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Me, trying to fit in.

There are eight guys in total building the water tank, all aged between 19 and 25 and all very kind and polite (I’ve asked them several times to stop calling me ‘Madam Chloe’). Dennis 1 is the trainer, then there is Erisa who according to Dennis 2 is “the real boss, because he’s built the most water-tanks”. Emma 1 is the quietest, Eric and Ernest are brothers, Mbalak is the only Muslim and finally there’s Emma 2, who thinks I’m a devil worshipper because I told him I don’t believe in God.

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Erisa, “the real boss”
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The HYT team at work

The guys live on site whilst they carry out the project then when it’s done move onto the next. They’ve been together now for five and a half months and the group have bonded, evident by the amount of in-jokes, constant ribbing of Emma 2, who “hates cooking”, when it’s his turn to cook, or Mbalak for his speech impediment. The monotony of the days are starting to wear them down and all of the men complain to me about how bored they are. This school “is the worst”, says Erisa because “it’s miles away from the nearest town and has no electricity”; once work is finished there is nothing to do apart from play football. Sometimes they go back to their families on the weekend, 19 year-old Ernest has a three month old baby at home, but most of them just stay on site.

They’re not completely alone though as  some teachers also live on site during term-time. Betty teaches P3 (8-11 years old) and lives in a little room at the school along with three of her five children. Up until four years’ ago she was living in Entebbe, an attractive city outside of Kampala, but her husband left them all for another woman so she was forced to leave and find somewhere else to live. I spend one lunch-break sitting with Betty and looking through photos of her past life in Entebbe – Betty freshly coiffured and colourfully dressed at various parties or family portraits on days out. The photos seem like a lifetime away.

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Betty, with her photos

DSC_0016 (2)Cooking at Kibebe is done on an open fire in a small hut next to where the water tank is being built. The guys take it in turns to cook and throughout the day various teachers also take a break from class to prepare themselves some food. Astonishingly to me, children also use the hut to cook food for themselves or the teachers. There is no official school cook, so when it comes to lunch the children have to fend for themselves. Everyone is cooking posho and beans, occasionally maize is toasted on open fires by the younger children.

The recipe below uses dried beans, but canned beans would work just as well. The beans most widely used in Ugandan cooking are the ‘common beans’ (google image it), but again, other types of beans would be just as nice.

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Recipe for Posho and Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients

For the beans:

Water

400 grams dried ‘common’ beans

1 large onion

1 large tomato

1 teaspoon curry powder

½ teaspoon dried ginger

½ teaspoon cumin powder

For the posho:

1.2 litres water

1kg maize flour

Method

For the beans:

Place the beans in a pan and cover with cold water, leave to soak overnight or for at least six hours.

Drain the beans, then add just enough clean water to cover the beans. Put the beans on a hob and leave to boil for 1 and ½ hours.

Whilst the beans are cooking, chop your tomato and onion. Once beans are done remove from the hob and leave to one side

In a new saucepan add a good glug of oil. Add the onions and cook on high heat until beginning to brown. Next add the tomatoes and spices and continue to cook for two minutes

Add the entire contents of the bean saucepan to the onions and tomatoes and stir everything together. Check the seasoning. Let the mixture cook for 10 minutes on a lower heat. Keep stirring to make sure the beans don’t stick.

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Mbalak serving up lunch

For the posho:

Heat the water in a pan until it’s just beginning to boil. Gradually pour in the maize, ‘mingling’ (mixing) all the time.

Keep stirring the mixture, adding more maize flour in until the mixture is thicker than mashed potato. It will be hard work to mingle the mixture but keep going! Squash lumps that form with the back of your wooden spoon to ensure an even mixture at the end.

Cook for 5 minutes, whilst still stirring.

Serve immediately.

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