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Moni Malawi

My Scholarship entry - Understanding a Culture through Food

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [182] | Scholarship Entry

As a Canadian national the idea of a staple food was foreign to me before I moved to southern Africa; growing up as part of a “cultural mosaic” meant every meal could come from a different corner of the world. But Malawi is no melting pot, and a lot can be understood of the landlocked southeast African country’s culture through nsima, the thick, starchy maize flour mixture that fills the majority of the pots in use.
In a practice that embodies the importance Malawians place on hospitality, community and an appreciation for the organic, palm-sized steaming and sticky nsima “pats” are served without any eating utensil and are eaten with the hands. Water is poured over the hands into a receptacle bowl with the guest attended to first. Patrons break off marble-sized pieces of nsima, roll and dimple the piece to scoop up side dishes known as relishes or ndiwo.
The relishes add colour, flavor, vitamins and nutrients to the otherwise empty-carbohydrate-laden meal. Due to the lack of food-processing plants in Malawi and the shortage of forex meaning few imported foods are available, relish recipes focus on fresh produce in its original form and pay tribute to seasonal offerings before they are “finished” for the year.
After four months in Malawi I’ve come a long way since the first time I ordered nsima with a fork – I eat the staple food every day. At first I stuck to nsima as a way to save money as a full plate costs under CAD$1. But the dish has played a roll in how much I have come to look forward to lunching with my Malawian colleagues.  

We stick to nsima because we like the way it sticks to our fingers, a method of eating that allows for a new organic appreciation of the food. We stick to nsima because we like the way it sticks to our ribs on days that include a four kilometre walk to and from work. We stick to nsima because nsima is Malawian – it’s amazing the common bond that can be formed by cornmeal paste.

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012

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