Learning to cook – Rachel Chung in Tanzania

I never thought too much in depth on the process of cooking—mostly because I’m not very good at it, so I grew accustomed to learning and cooking staple recipes (enough to get by the college apartment life). Thus, I was shocked while observing my host-mom and sister spend extensive hours in the kitchen for just one meal.

The ugali was kept warm with embers placed on top of the lid while other dishes were cooked.

The ugali was kept warm with embers placed on top of the lid while other dishes were cooked.

Our mornings usually consisted of bread and various homemade jams with warm Tanzanian milk tea. We were fed delicious lunches that the girls at the orphanage made us, which usually consisted of a sweet pasta, a variation of some kind of meat stew, and another dish that was made of potatoes or bananas or both. But I especially looked forward to our dinners at home, and at the same time dreaded them. Our host-parents insisted that I had to eat more because they thought that I was too small. After the first serving, they would take my plate and give me more than they did the first time. I noticed that if I hadn’t finished my food my parents thought that I had not enjoyed it, so I ended up eating everything on my plate, regardless of how full I was. After a few meals with them, I figured that I really couldn’t force myself to eat everything anymore. So with my little knowledge of Swahili I communicated to my parents that I wouldn’t be able to eat more than one serving.

“Tumbo kidogo (which means stomach small). Chakula kidogo (which means food small),’ I said. Then I would repeat it again and again until I felt like I said it enough and they would have to try and process what I really meant by it. Overall, I really enjoyed the food that they prepared. However, I stayed away from eating meat, because I noticed that my teammates staying with other families were having trouble digesting it.

 Our host-sister cooking in place of our mama.

Our host-sister cooking in place of our mama.

Most nights, we had the privilege to help out in the kitchen, whether that was cutting the vegetables or simply just watching our mama (what we called our host-mom) efficiently cooking up our meals. Our dinners usually started at 8:30pm or 9:00pm because it took such a long time to make anything. Our mama  particularly liked making ugali, which was a dish that was made of maize and it was cooked to a dough-like consistency. She said that it was good for our baba and that it gave him the energy and strength that he needed for his work. Just watching her make ugali made me feel tired because it required so much work. She would sit and stir the maize powder and water mixture until it changed to more of a churning as the mixture became thicker in texture. She would do this for a long time until she got tired and passed the large wooden spatula to either me or my roommate to help churn. When I tried it myself, I found that I could hardly move the spatula. I was amazed at our mama’s strength and endurance. However, it didn’t end there, she spent another hour cooking the main dish over the fire and used all sorts of spices that she personally ground up and tossed into pot. Whatever she did seemed so effortless, but the result of it always tasted so good, and I just knew that it came from years of experience, which is something I also want to be able to do.


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