What are Zimbabwean traditional crops and foods?


WE recently had a visitor from Lesotho at our workplace that we had to take out for lunch.
My work colleague asked her what she preferred between traditional and Western dishes.
She opted for traditional.
My discomfort was palpable.
I had been to Ethiopia with her the year before.
Ethiopia is a place where one can find real local/traditional cuisine.
I knew traditional dish at a Zimbabwean restaurant would be a challenge. Zimbabwe is a country dominated by three dishes; rice and chicken, sadza and beef stew, fish/chicken and chips.
With the exception of chips, the rest are traditional, but adapted and prepared Western style.
We took our Sotho friend to a facility that has a good reputation in serving traditional dishes.
On the menu they had only three dishes left; ox tail, goat, road runner, mazondo and beef stews served with sadza or rice and green vegetables.
We all had ox tail.
The greens looked like boiled cabbage outer leaves with undercooked carrot skins. To say the vegetables tasted horrible is an understatement.
At least the oxtail was well cooked and generously served.
In the ensuing discussion I had to concede that traditional cuisine is hard to find as our culinary habits have been battered for over a century by colonisation and poverty whereas in Ethiopia they have been able to retain a measure of independence in that regard.
My colleague felt I was being overgenerous in my concession.
I stood my ground and promised to search the archives for a list of traditional food crops, dishes.
It is a catalogue of what could have been a foundation for further development of our traditional cuisine in the last century.
In the archives I came across writings by various white Rhodesian civil servants on the subject.
The list, which I have already shared with our Sotho friend, is as follows;
Group one consists of Cereals/Grains/Grass crops.
There were six main crops that our ancestors depended on especially for starch. Zviyo or rukweza, small seeded millet, was the principal food crop.
It grew well under both dry and wet conditions.
It was stone ground and used extensively in making porridge, sadza, maheu and beer.
These products of zviyo are nearly extinct when we should be expecting more creative derivatives of them to have developed over the last century.
Mhunga, grey millet, was used for similar purposes.
Mupunga, rice, in its red and white varieties, was also grown and eaten extensively in this country before colonisation.
Also grown, but at a smaller scale was maize/mabarwe/chibage which had been introduced by the Portuguese.
This was eaten while green roasted or boiled.
Today maize has become the principal source of sadza, beer and maheu.
Other crops were ipwa (sweet cane) and nzimbe (sugar cane) whose sweet juice is extracted by chewing.
Group two consists of Legumes and animal products.
These provided the main source of protein.
Nyemba, misnamed cowpeas in English, provided the main source of protein.
It is the oldest legume to be grown in this country by the first Bantu farmers two thousand years ago.
It was eaten boiled as mutakura or as a pudding, rupiza.
Rupiza was very popular in our village in the 1970s, but here and am sure elsewhere, it is now extinct.
Nzungu, peanuts, was extensively grown and used to make dovi, peanut butter. This would be added to porridge or make a sauce, gwatakwata, for sadza or would be mixed with pumpkin mash to make nhopi, pudding.
Oil balls could also be made from peanut butter. The oil would be used to rub on bodies.
The third most common legume was nyimo, ground peas or round nuts.
This was eaten boiled as mutakura. meat was another source of protein.
This was generously supplied through hunted game, cattle, goats, sheep and fowls. When available in large quantities meat would be stored as biltong, chimukuyu.
Other crops included mbambaira/madima, sweet potatoes.
These were grown in the more humid parts of the country and eaten boiled or roasted.
Manhanga, pumpkins were cultivated throughout the country in several varieties and eaten boiled.
They were also used to make pudding.
Leaves of some pumpkin varieties were used as vegetable relish, muboora.
Other vegetables included mowa (wild spinach), nyevhe and guku (black jack).
Manwiwa (water melons), mufarinya (cassava), tsenza, hova/mahobo (bananas) and mhiripiri were also grown and used extensively.
Confined to Ndau areas were Madhumbe (elephant ear), mapapai (paw paws), zvihengi (pineapples) and ininga/utwiro (sesame).
Forest fruits included hacha, a type of plum eaten especially during times of famine, mawonde (figs), matamba (wild oranges), matohwe and mawuyu (baobab fruit).
To this rich and diverse agricultural production, the colonial government unleashed agricultural demonstrators, Madhumeni, ostensibly to modernise African agriculture.
The result was that in under a century most of the traditional grains gave way to maize dominance.
This coupled with imported Western tastes crowded out traditional African cuisine. In the resultant poverty we have to celebrate white sadza with ox tail as representative of our traditional cuisine.
One hopes the relevant industries and hotel schools will take note and use historical information to help us recover our lost cuisine.
I remember watching a production on United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly held in Victoria Falls in 2013.
Our reporter was interviewing a foreign delegate on what they had liked about Zimbabwe.
The delegate spoke about friendly people, peace, the mighty Victoria Falls, wild life and weather.
But our reporter was not finished, he proceeded, “And the food?”
That killed the interview as the delegate, with great difficult to remain polite, said having flown thousands of miles from Europe he did not expect to be eating Western meals daily, dishes that are prepared to better standards in Europe.
In short, the delegate had expected to dine on Zimbabwean dishes in Victoria Falls’ top hotels.



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