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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eating (and Much More) in South Africa

In 2009, my cousin, Andrew Steele, spent a month in Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa during his final year at Wittenberg University.  He was so taken by all that he saw and the people that he met during this service trip, that he has decided to dedicate himself to making the lives of these people better.

                   Photo courtesy of Andrew Steele
First, he founded BLOOM Africa, which, according to its mission statement, exists to provide resources to orphans in support of their basic life’s needs through sustainable projects, educational programming and financial support by collaborating with the people of African nations. 

After graduating, he signed up to spend a year in Bloemfontein, South Africa through the Young Adults in Global Mission program through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  He's been living, working and learning there since August.  I won't go into all that he's done (and is doing)--you can read all about it in his blog.  It's worth the reading--it's entertaining, educational and very inspiring. 

But I'm here to write about food, so I asked him to tell me a bit about what he's been eating (or not eating) while there.  Here's some of what he told me:

The most common food in SA is called Pap (pronounced pop), which is simply cornmeal mixed with water.  Just as it is in many cultures, cornmeal provides the staple of nourishment.  Andrew says that it's eaten with almost every meal--especially in rural areas.  Again, like cornmeal in most cultures (tortillas, polenta, grits, etc), pap is prepared in different ways depending on the area in which you're eating.  He says, "In the northern province of Limpopo, the pap is first made into a soft porridge, and then given time to thicken.  Once thick, they serve the pap as round balls, which can easily be eaten with your hands as it has a somewhat thick outer layer and is soft on the inside.  The pap made in...the region of Free State tends to be more crumbly and dry."

                                     Photo by Arne Larson
Yum...Mopane Worm!
Another favorite of the locals is chicken heads and feet--or "walkie-talkies" as they are called.  Andrew hadn't tried chicken heads (yet?), but had eaten feet.  "I would sum it up as the texture and consistency of chicken-flavored jelly.  I definitely won't try it again, I don't think."

Some other "strange" foods Andrew mentions are cow heels, mopane worms (a caterpillar that is usually dried or smoked and eaten as a snack), sheep heads, chicken intestines (which Andrew thought tasted pretty good), ox tail and, thanks to lingering British influence, tea.  Tea time is a regular occurrence in South Africa.

                                                               Photo courtesy of Andrew Steele
Tastes like chicken...intestines.
 From some of these foods, you can see that, just as in pretty much every culture in the world (except for ours), every possible part of an animal or plant is used for food.  I often think, if I'm watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern or some other travel/food show like that, how the only reason some of the foods that other cultures eat are bizarre to us, is because we leave so much to waste.  It only makes sense to eat the feet and heads of critters if they're edible.  Bajillions of people around the world have been eating these "bizarre" foods for thousands of years.  Somewhere along the line, our culture decided not to any more.

Anyway, thanks a lot to Andrew for sharing some of his culinary adventures.  If he gives me any more to share, I'll be sure to pass them on. 

And to Andrew: I know that missing your family--especially during the holidays, missing the Eagles season and the upcoming Phillies season (you'll be home for the Series drive!) and just being away from home for so long can be tough.  But you'll look back on this year as something that you'll always remember--and that most people don't have the opportunity or the guts to actually do.  Good for you!  Keep up the good work.  And don't eat anything I wouldn't eat!  (Or on second thought, go ahead!)

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