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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

During his 27-year incarceration Nelson Mandela wrote to his then wife, Winnie, “How I long for amasi, thick and sour! You know darling there is one respect in which I dwarf all my contemporaries or at least about which I can confidently claim to be second to none – healthy appetite”.

Strictly speaking, Amasi is fermented, sour milk. Umphokoqo is crumbly pap, a type of thick maize porridge (also known as ‘miliepap’). When amasi is poured over umphoko it is known as umvubo. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. Regardless of word preference, umvubo fans claim it is the ideal meal to consume on a warm day as the cold sour milk poured over the crumbly pap is said to cool down the body.

Food trail to London

While famous, Mandela’s palate was simple. When released from prison in 1992, he set about looking for someone who could prepare the traditional home cooked, hearty meals he craved. Xoliswa Ndoyiya, or “Xoli” as he affectionately referred to her became his personal chef from 1992 until his death in 2013. Once, when out of the country on presidential business, Mandela missed Xoliswa’s cooking so much that he had her prepare umphokogo and have it shipped to London.

What is home food?

In 2011 Xoliswa published Ukutya Kwasekhaya: Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen. In her book she says, she talks about how she came to be Mandela’s chef. He said to her, “I believe that you are a great cook, but can you cook our food?” She replied that she could cook ukutya kwasekhaya and in her words, “that was that”. In isiXhosa, Mandela’s first language, ukutya kwasekhaya means “home food”. It is traditional Xhosa food, the food he was always happiest eating.

Mandela’s best-loved dishes

In Mandela’s household food was more than sustenance. It was about tradition, family, home, sharing and enjoying meals with those he loved. Some of his best-loved mains included usu or tripe (usually cow or sheep stomach lining and offal) and umsila wenkomo or oxtail stew. Favourite side dishes included umqushu (samp made from corn with beans).

While warning his grandchildren about the pitfalls of too much sugar and nudging them away from sweet treats he was known for some dessert indulgences of his own. These included malva pudding, a sweet baked dessert served with either ice cream or custard, and strawberry trifle, which is a layered cake, cream and fruit dessert.

Showing appreciation with food

For Xoliswa cooking for Mandela and his family for more than 20 years was her way of giving back to the man who had selflessly sacrificed so much. While not adverse to trying different foods particularly when globe trotting as a statesman, he preferred the simple tastes of the traditional food he ate as boy. In prison, he yearned for the dishes of his childhood and he always paid tribute to his mother’s cooking, happily sharing memories of her cooking for him with love. 


Monday, July 10, 2017

Every culture has its share of wise proverbs or sayings, usually single sentences, passed down from one generation to the next. While these sayings may vary from one language, culture, and country to another, the wisdom they convey is universal. Africa, in particular, is overflowing with inspirational sayings, many of which provide a captivating insight into the rich and vibrant cultures that crafted them.

1.”Teeth do not see poverty”.

Even when circumstances are dire, people still manage to find something to smile about.

2.”Only a fool tests the depth of a river with both feet”.

Don’t leap into a situation without first thinking about the consequences.

3.”Do not look where you feel, but where you slipped”.

Rather than dwelling on your mistake, look at what caused you to make the mistake.

4.”The best way to eat an elephant in your path is to cut him up into little pieces”.

The best way to solve a problem is to tackle it bit by bit, one step at a time.

5.”He who does not know one thing knows another”.

No one can know everything but everyone knows something.

6.”Rain beats the leopards skin but it does not wash out the spots”.

No matter how hard you try, you cannot change another person’s character. Similarly, if you behave badly and develop a poor reputation, it’s difficult to change other people’s opinions of you, regardless of how many good deeds you perform.

7.”No matter how hot your anger is it cannot cook yams”.

While anger can prompt a positive action that may resolve an issue, the act of getting angry resolves nothing.

8.”A roaring lion kills no game”. Sitting around and talking about something gains nothing. The saying also implies that you should work towards your goals quietly rather than bragging about your achievements prematurely.

9.”Do not call the forest that shelters you a jungle”.

Do not disrespect or insult someone who shares your burdens and responsibilities or who takes care of you.

10.”Rain does not fall on one roof alone”.

Trouble does not discriminate. It comes to everyone at some point.

11.”Ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off”.

A person who does not heed advice will suffer the consequences.

12.”Not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it, chased it”.

For more articles on this subject see: The Timeless Wisdom of African Sayings.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

South Africa is widely recognised as one of the world’s best whale watching destinations. Each year these gargantuan sea mammals migrate from Antarctica to warmer climates and can be spotted at various points along the coastal belt of southern Africa. The most prolific sightings take place in the Western Cape between June and November each year.

How the southern right whale got its name

Of the various whale species to be seen in these parts, including humpback and Brydes whales, southern right whales are the most common. Prior to the protection laws of 1935, owing to their docility, slow and graceful swimming speeds, and carcass floatability, whalers considered southern right whales to be the right whales to hunt. Nowadays, as Cape Town Tourism aptly puts it, the same slow speed has made them “the right whale to watch”.

Distinguishing features


Like its two northern cousins, the southern right whale has noticeable callosities (hard skin patches with a consistency similar to human nails) on its head. It also has a particularly broad back, no dorsal fin, and an elongated arching mouth that begins above the eye. Its skin is a very dark charcoal grey or black, with some white patches on its underbelly. Two leviathan nostrils or blowholes, account for the v-shaped blow observed by delighted whale watchers.

Born entertainers

With an average length of 15 metres and a scale-smashing weight of up to 60 tons, the popular and powerful sea acrobatics of southern right whales are impressive. This, and the fact that they come teasingly close to shore blowing, breaching, fluking, lobtailing, spyhopping and generally frolicking about the place has appropriately earned them a reputation as born entertainers and show-stealers.

Some useful whale speak

Blowing refers to the air expelled through the blowhole at the top of the whale’s head, characteristically seen as a fountain of spray.

Breaching is the term used to describe a whale lunging out of the water in an arching back flip. It makes a loud slapping noise when it falls back on its side or back.

Fluking is the action that occurs when a whale raises its tail as it begins a dive.

Lobtailing is an activity in which the whale lifts its flukes and tail out of the water and slaps the water. Flukes are the boneless fin-like structures at the end of the tail.

Spyhopping occurs when a whale lifts its head, and sometimes its body as far as its tail, vertically out of the water. Sometimes it twirls around to find out what is happening above water.

Best whale watching close to Cape Town

The Cape Peninsula’s bays provide the ideal sheltered territory for whales to spend their time cavorting, courting, and nursing their newborn calves. As such, southern right whales are sighted every year in the False Bay area, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town’s central business district. 

Further south, Walkers Bay in Hermanus, in particular, provides some of the best land-based whale watching on the globe. With southern right whales coming close to shore it isn’t unusual to see them from a Hermanus cliff path walk or while sipping coffee at a local street cafĂ©. Another popular whale-watching spot is the southernmost tip of Africa, in the Cape Agulhus region, where the two oceans famously meet.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ethiopian iab cheese (also known as ayeb or ayib) is a white curd-style homemade cheese similar to Greek feta. It is a central ingredient in Ethiopia’s widely consumed iab dip, which has a refreshingly cooling flavour. As such, iab is dip often found on various spicy Ethiopian food platters and often served at GOLD Restaurant. This recipe uses cottage cheese (easily sourced from your local supermarket), which is similar in texture. By adding more yoghurt and leaving out the parsley you can serve your iab with fresh fruit as a dessert or snack. Ethiopian cuisine is famous for its full flavours and communal food culture. Family and friends eat with their hands off a shared platter, which includes spicy and delicious meat, poultry, vegetables and injeera (a type of Ethiopian bread) to mop up the dips and sauces.

Recipe by: GOLD Restaurant
Serves: 8 (generous servings)
Difficulty: Easy
Preparation: 30 minutes

Ingredients

T = tablespoon
t = teaspoon

250 g chunky cottage cheese
250 g plain feta cheese
250 g plain thick yoghurt
1 T grated lemon rind (zest)
1 t fresh oregano
1 t fresh basil
1 t fresh thyme
1 t freshly ground pepper
½ t salt
¼ spring onion, finely chopped
1 t castor sugar

2 t fresh garlic, finely chopped

Method

Combine all IAB ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Transfer into a dip bowl for serving.
Tip: Your dip can be prepped in advance. In fact, it tastes even better after a day or two and keeps for a week in the refrigerator.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

A township kasi-style (street) food experience is all about community: a busy gathering place bursting with energy. On your food walk, you’ll find simple market-style takeaway stalls lining the street with foods cooked in large pots or roasted on fiery coals and eaten by hand. The atmosphere is loud and lively with colourful banter between purveyors and customers.

Amakhekhe

Arrive early for breakfast and try some amakhekhe. These large, round township scones are a variation between English-style scones and cupcakes without the cup. They’re not served with jam or cream as they’re sufficiently tasty on their own as an anytime treat.

Shisa nyama

Nyama (meat) is one of the most commonly recurring themes in township street food. For many South Africans, a meal is not really a meal without meat or chicken. Shisa Nyama is braaied (barbecued) seasoned meat, and chicken, eaten mainly at lunch or dinnertime and sometimes breakfast too. Typically, nyama includes the likes of chops and boerewors, (a favourite South African sausage). It also includes the ever-popular walkie-talkie snack food (chicken feet and heads). These are spiced and grilled and sometimes served with a tangy sauce. If you’re brave enough to try something completely different try a char-grilled sheep’s head or smiley. They’re so-called because the lips curl back into a lurid toothy grin during the cooking process.

Amashwamshwam

If you’re not so keen on a heavy meal of meat, heads or feet, you can tuck into a packet of amashwamshwam. These light and crunchy fried or baked snacks, similar to cheese puffs or cheese curls depending on where you are in the world, are made from puffed corn and coated in cheesy finger-licking deliciousness.

Slaai wat-wat

Kota is a township burger. The name derives from the word “quarter”. A loaf of white bread is cut into four quarters with each quarter hollowed out and filled with optional layers of meat, chicken, chips (fries), egg, cheese, or salad. It is often served with a sauce. When the quarters or loaf ends are filled with curry it is called a bunny chow.

A slaai wat-wat is similar to a kota but without quarter loaf. It includes similar filling choices to a kota except that the ingredients form the layers between two sometimes three thick slices of bread to form a monster sandwhich.

Chakalaka

A favourite condiment in kotas, Chakalaka is a spicy sauce or relish made from various family-favourite recipes usually with a chillie and tomato base. Ingredients vary and may include anything from chopped garlic, ginger, onions, curry powder and peppers to baked beans and grated carrots. 

Kasi-style street food has become so popular that cafes and restaurants continue to pop up all over South African townships. While you might not want to indulge in chomping on a grinning sheep’s head, no township experience is complete without sampling the local cuisine. The atmosphere is always relaxed. There’s no dress code, no standing on ceremony, and everyone’s welcome.

For more on typical South African Township Foods:
5 Typically South African Township Foods
Why Boerewors is South Africa’s Favourite Sausage
Chicken Feet: A Tradtional Township Delicacy
Umqombothi: Traditional Edible African Beer
Visit Langa For A Real Taste of Township Life


Friday, April 28, 2017

It’s not news that what you wear says a great deal about you. In other words, your wardrobe plays an important part in establishing your identity. In many countries, style of dress is to some extent influenced by culture and tradition: although with the world becoming a global market, the thin boundary between clothing styles is becoming increasingly blurred.

In the isiXhosa (Xhosa) culture, an ethnic group of people of Southern Africa found mainly in the Eastern Cape, ‘fashion’ strongly reflects culture and heritage. Most Xhosa traditions and rituals concerning life, marriage, childbirth and death are closely related to what people wear. Xhosa culture reveres the different stages of life and the clothing a Xhosa person wears speaks volumes about his or her in society.

The symbolism of each wedding garment

As such, a Xhosa wedding is not just the celebration of the union between a man and a woman. It is also a rite of passage for a young woman, who is considered a girl before she marries. While certain symbolic items have evolved over time, the modern-day makoti’s (bride or newly-wed woman) wedding attire reflects this passage into womanhood. Each garment and accessory holds enormous significance and serves to honour and preserve the dignity and beauty of Xhosa culture and ritual.

 Much ado about the headpiece

Mostly it’s about the iduku, also known as the iqhiya (headpiece). If a woman’s head is covered you can tell she is married: A makoti wears a black iduku, a turban-like scarf, wound and tied, and dipped low to veil her eyes. Once married she moves from her parent’s home to her in law’s house and the covering of the eyes is a sign of respect to her elders and in laws. It is also a sign that she has been accepted into her husband’s family. Once she gives birth to her first child she can move the iduku up and off her eyes and can wear a headscarf of any colour.

More than a heritage symbol, the iduku gives a Xhosa woman another layer of respect, inner strength and self-confidence. Generally, more elaborate headpieces indicate seniority. In fact, the headpiece has also become an iconic fashion statement for traditional and contemporary Xhosa women and African women in general. Women regally adorned with various vibrant and elaborate headpieces can be seen at traditional, and increasingly, more modern events.

Why the length of the skirt matters

In western culture the wearing of pants is commonplace among men and women. In traditional Xhosa society, young girls do not wear pants or at least are not supposed to. While this might seem outdated to the western observer, Xhosa culture is by its very nature, amiable, accommodating and encourages positive attitudes to life. Nowadays, it isn’t unusual, although perhaps frowned upon by older members of Xhosa society, to see modern Xhosa girls and women wearing the latest leggings.

An inkanzana (unmarried woman with a child) must wear a longer skirt or dress below the knees at least, while an intombi (young unmarried woman) is entitled to wear shorter skirts. A bride wears an ankle-length skirt. The covering of her legs is dual purpose. It indicates that she is no longer a girl and it also serves to avoid unwanted attention from other would be suitors.

Concealing the waistline and covering the shoulders

Once married, a makoti wears an idaki (a dress given to her by her husband’s relatives). She wears a blanket or shawl around the shoulders, her iduku, and an uxakatha (towel or thick scarf) around her waist. The shawl represents the qualities of protection and nurturing expected of her. The scarf obscuring her waistline serves to protect her fertility. She wears these and various other adornments provided by her in-laws as a sign of respect to them.

And preparations for the celebrations begin

There is no need for formal invitations. A white flag, flown high is all the invitation required and everyone’s invited. Closer to the big day, the community flits about in an excited frenzy. Women gather together to prepare hearty kwasekhaya (home-style Xhosa dishes). These include anything from umqombothi (traditional Xhosa beer or home brew) link to article, isopho (soup), umnqusho (samp and beans), and imithwane (made with pumpkin leaves and butter) to umsila wenkomo (oxtail stew), ulusu (tripe) and dombolo (dumplings). There is never a shortage of food or home brew. Well-wishers are constantly toing and froing in and out of the family homes of the bride and groom. Then the big day arrives and the festivities begin in earnest.

5 Typically South African Township Foods

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The word “gorilla” dates back to ancient times when Hanno the Navigator first clapped eyes on a savage people on the West African Coast: a group of what he thought to be incredibly hairy human females. He called them Gorillae. Nowadays, scientists are uncertain as to whether the species he spotted were in fact gorilla or another kind of ape. Nonetheless, the word became a species name and literally means “tribe of hairy women”.

One of our closest living relatives

The term “African Ape” refers to gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos, all of which diverged from a common hominidae ancestor. In fact, at least 95% of gorilla DNA is shared with humans, which makes them one of our closest living relatives. Much like humans, gorillas live in complex social communities or groups. They use tools to go about their daily business, such as sticks to forage for food or to test the depth of muddy water and swampy areas, and, in so doing, demonstrate a very human-like capacity for problem solving and dexterity.

Distinct arm wrestling advantage

As the largest of the great apes, a mature male Gorilla can reach six feet, weigh up to 230 kilograms, and have an arm length of eight feet. Their arms are longer than their legs to carry the weight of their enormous torsos and heads. Males develop a saddle-shaped patch of silvery grey on their backs when they reach sexual maturity hence the term “silverback”.

Tough at the top

A typical gorilla family includes a dominant silverback gorilla with multiple females, juvenile gorillas and infants. It is his job to keep the group together and provide protection, sometimes with the support of other silver backs or younger black back males. As leader, he makes the important decisions on behalf of the group, such as when to move and where to move. He mediates conflict, protects infant gorillas from infanticide and nobly defends the troop against predators.

Co-habitation and social grooming

Gorillas generally live in stable social groups and live within relatively small areas of land. In the wild they live to the grand age of 35. Sometimes groups co-exist peacefully in converging areas. When young male gorillas reach the age of 8 to 11 they usually move away and join another group, or start a new family of their own.

Gorillas, like humans, are social creatures. They engage in social grooming, which takes the form of rifling through one another’s hair with fingers or teeth. More than an exercise in hygiene or looking good, grooming is, in fact, an act of reinforcing social bonds.

Preference for vegetarian dining

While the majority of a gorilla’s menu consists of berries, leaves, shoots, stems fruit, and flowers, gorillas aren’t entirely herbivorous. Sometimes they chomp on small animal proteins such as grubs, caterpillars, snails, termites and ants. While they enjoy feasting on food, up to 18 kilograms a day, their pot bellies are not a side effect of too much food, but rather the result of enlarged intestines, which aid digestion.

Learning to speak Gorilla

Screaming, hooting, growling, roaring, howling, chuckling, chest pounding and other sounds and gestures can seem loud and intimidating if you’re not a gorilla. The screaming charge, with which most people are familiar, is in fact a big, hairy, yet vulnerable creature communicating anger and fear. It’s a tactic to scare away humans, their only predators. Gorillas are after all an endangered species - mainly from loss of habitat and hunting.

Brushing up on your belching

A contact call, also known as a belch vocalisation, because it was originally thought to be gorillas belching, is considered polite and respectful gorilla etiquette. Human observers are encouraged to use the belch vocalisation to indicate non-aggression. This together with a low stance, arms folded, eyes away, but glancing out of the corners shows that you’re non-threatening. It let’s gorillas know that you’re coming so that they aren’t surprised by your presence.

Debunking King Kong

Scientists have shown that the King Kong-esque movie portrayals of the largest of the apes as a ferocious beast are wholly untrue. In fact, the famous American zoologist, anthropologist and primatologist, Dian Fossey, who first undertook and documented extensive in-depth studies of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, discovered that they are incredibly gentle and, surprisingly shy. She said, “It was their individuality combined with the shyness of their behaviour that remained the most captivating impression of this (her) first encounter with the greatest of the great apes”.

More human than humans


While many scientists resist “anthropomorphism” – projecting human emotions on to animals – other scientists have increasingly documented gorillas’ deeply touching ability to show emotions such as grief. Gorillas demonstrate compassion for other primates, even humans. As Dian Fossey said, “Gorillas are almost altruistic in nature. There’s very little if any ‘me-itis’… I feel more comfortable with gorillas than people. I can anticipate what a gorilla’s going to do, and they’re purely motivated. The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people”.


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