The Absence of Cheese
I woke up at 3:30AM with a stiff neck from too much sitting in one place on airplanes and having a mind and body still on Tanzania time. So I started doing the laundry and sorting through all the stuff in the suitcases to make sure things got home intact. They did, for the most part. Not a problem beyond a couple of minor and fixable mishaps.
So lets start the blogging this morning with Swahili cuisine as I think about making my shopping list for Wegmans. There were basically eight dishes that we got to eat over and over again no matter where the meal was served and we ate in a lot of people’s houses, especially during the last week there. Poor people’s food is Ugali, kind of like a cornmeal mush, cooked up thick and solid. You eat it with your fingers, by taking a bit off your plate, rolling it up like a ball, putting a dent into it with your thumb and then using your mini impromptu bowl to scoop up some kind of vegetable stew.
I like Ugali very much, even though it is bland, but I did not get to eat it near as often as I would have wanted to. Wherever we went, Randy and I were considered the guests of honor and when guests come, the Tanzanians cook rice, mountains of rice, as the base for their stews. So each meal started with rice and was complimented by the following: Peas and carrots in a coconut cream sauce, beans in sauce (as in rice and beans with a rich variety of them), some form of cooked banana (roasted or stewed), a sautéed green vegetable of some kind (including pumpkin leaves) and a bit (a little bit) of roasted or boiled meat. The meat deserves special mention because the average Tanzanian woman really overcooks her meat to make it as tough and chewy as possible. Fat and sinews stay on. Organ meat gets served as a delicacy. I suppose that the draconian cooking methods make the meat safe to eat but for the love of all culinary gods, I almost became a vegetarian in four weeks of time. The one thing I was never able to eat..ever…was when the meat was cooked in a broth and you could see all the innards the folks who don’t have much could not bear to discard.
Dessert in Tanzania is fresh fruit, wonderful fresh fruit, because God allows everything to grow there and you can basically pick it off the trees or from the ground for consumption that day. There are endless bananas, passion fruit, papayas, melons, pineapple, sugar cane, avocados, grapes, nuts, oranges, lemons and more. There are no genetically modified, disease resistant, pesticide sprayed, watery fruits transported unripe a thousand miles in Tanzania and when you get a piece of God-grown, nature-given fruit from just outside your own front door for dessert, you remember what it was meant to be from the beginning….yum! By the way, the campus of SHUCo has some of the fruit trees right on the pathways to the lecture halls and students in the dorms keep an eye on the ripeness of the abundance coming their way for free as they head for class. Dr. Mwankenja said that he and his wife never get the stuff of the campus trees because the students are just faster and more observant than they are.
The one food that Tanzanians barely know anything about is cheese. They don’t make it in that climate, they have no refrigeration, and they are therefore not familiar with its endless varieties or its taste either. I missed cheese a lot. I missed pizza and Macn’Cheese and casseroles with melted, browned cheddar on the top. All of that is on my list for Wegmans today. I am overdosed on rice for a while. I promised Randy that there will be no peas or beans in the near future. Rice will wait until John Mwasakilali arrives at the seminary in late August. And I will cook everything American and German that I know how to make. I will not char the meat until it becomes unrecognizable. And I will eat with a fork and knife instead of my fingers..for a while.