Our first social experience as babies is with food. The breast or the bottle come before learning to speak, learning to walk or even learning to take care of ourselves. This must be the reason food plays such a huge role in our lives. It’s something a majority of us experience close to three times a day.
Growing up Zambian, the type of food eaten in our households is a reflection of our individual tribes. In Bemba homes, there’s a good chance you’ll find a lot of Isabi (Fish). In a Chewa home, you’ll find Mbuzi (Goat meat).
It all determines which part of the country the family originates from. Even for Zambian’s in the diaspora. You might be living there, and you’ll change the way you dress to fit in. You’ll also pick up different mannerisms to fit your new environment. But there’s a good chance you’ll still keep your eating habits. Mainly because traditional foods bring back memories of family and home.
As a new generation of Zambian’s emerge, most of whom have focused on studying, we are learning parents haven’t been teaching them to cook. Traditional Zambian foods find themselves at a cross-road. Now most Zambians prefer to eat at KFC, Pizza Hut, or Wimpy. Only a hand few of the older generations go to the markets in the early hours to buy fresh Ndiwo(Meat, Fish or Poultry), fruits and Musalu(Vegetables).
I appreciate globalization for all its done but that doesn’t mean that those delicious Zambian meals we grew up eating should be lost to big chain fast food stores. What about future generations of Zambians? Should we deny them a part of their heritage!?
In Zambian society eating is done family style, with shared dishes, and eating is the major social activity for friends and families. Eating, exchanging food, taking photos of food, uploading photos of food, looking at other people’s photos of food — this is all a way that food brings people together in an urban center like Lusaka.
And it is for this reason I choose to share with you 8 of my favorite Traditional Zambian foods. Most of which I can gladly say, I can cook.
1. Ubwali(Nshima). Nshima is a food cooked from finely ground maize. In other instances, it can also be prepared from Cassava flour, sorghum and millet. Nshima is eaten at any time of day and all year round regardless of season. It is usually served with a variety of vegetables and meat/fish.
2. Chisense(Kapenta). Kapenta are globally known as Lake Tanganyika Sardines. They come in different sizes, looks and taste. The most popular and preferred ones in Zambia are called Siavonga Kapenta.
3. Chikanda. Popularly known as African polony. Chikanda is made from roots and tubers. It is completely vegetarian, but I swear it tastes better than any meat I have eaten.
4. Imbalala ne Fyumbu (Groundnuts and Sweet Potatoes). Though not authentically Zambian, these two make a mean breakfast. You can have them with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Growing up we never had Cereals like Kellogs or Tiger for breakfast. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, instead my parents indulged us in groundnuts, cassava and sweet potatoes for breakfast. Good times!
5. Ifishimu (Caterpillars).These bad-boys usually surface during the rain season. It’s safe to say I have been eating them for the past 20-something years and I have never burped a butterfly. They are best fried or you can in peanut sauce.
6. Chibwabwa (Dry Pumpkin Leaves). I have tasted different Zambian vegetables. This one I never tire of eating. You can have them boiled or you can have them in peanut sauce. This is one veggie that can be put through so many variations.
7. Kalembula na Impwa (Dry Sweet Potato Leaves with Eggplants). Another juicy collabo. The dry sweet potato leaves and eggplants are cooked together. Resulting in an explosion of tastes. If you are feeling really adventurous you can mix your Impwa (Eggplant) with some Chibwabwa Yaku Sashila(Dry pumpkin leaves with peanut sauce).
8. Ubowa (Mushrooms). I like the small red and yellow type called “Tente”. They also show up towards the end of the rain season. As with any tasty Zambian dish, you can have them with peanut sauce.
I could keep going but something tells me your mouth is watering for these traditional Zambian foods. I leave you with the words of American Chef Dan Barber –
Food is the physical manifestation of our relationship with the natural world. It is where culture and ecology intersect. It can become even more important than language, and even geography, when it comes to culture”.
Share some of your favorite traditional foods with us? You know what to do. Just leave us a comment!