Tuesday, August 23, 2011

You Call it Food, We Call it Dijo!

The SA food (in Sepedi, it’s called dijo) has been pretty good.  Certainly, no one in our group is complaining about going hungry.  The main staple here is pap.  Pap is to South Africa as pasta is to Italy.  Basically, pap is made from finely crushed corn meal which is mixed vigorously with boiling water (there’s actually a bit more to it than that as the water has to be just so-so, the cornmeal added in at a certain time, stirred in a certain manner, etc.). A specially designed whisk-like instrument is used for this as it is necessary to get out all of the lumps.  The final product is like very dense mashed potatoes, but tastes more like grits.  The locals here eat it most every night.  A few of the PCVs have indicated a certain fondness for it.  I, on the other hand, will be stocking up on rice and bread and pasta for my daily carbs.  When I do eat pap I limit my serving to a half a cup or so, whereas the standard serving is more like 2+ cups.  Pap shows up as a side dish on lots of menus, even at fast food places like KFC (KFCs are quite popular here!).  

Pap being cooked ... about half way done.

 Veggies include spinach (more like Swiss chard), carrots, potatoes, onions, cabbage, tomatoes, and pumpkin. The pumpkin is similar to butternut squash and is pretty good cut up and cooked with a bit of butter and a little bit of sugar.  Most meals are a variation of the above items.  Chicken is the most common meat, although beef does show up from time to time in the form of chunky pieces (with bones) like we would typically use in making stew.  Chickens are cut into pieces a little differently than in the USA, so I’m often unaware of what part I’m eating unless it’s the chicken leg (hard to confuse that one).  What are widely available are chicken feet and chicken necks.  Many PCVs have had chicken feet several times, but I haven’t and I’m not rushing to have that experience.  From what I’ve heard, there’s virtually no meat on the feet … no surprise there.  

One of the best meals I’ve had was chicken livers which were cooked in a dark brown gravy with mushrooms.  I can understand if it would not be everyone’s favorite, but I came here already liking chicken livers so I thought it was a pretty awesome dish.

Some of the more unusual things I have tried are
1) chakalaka … This side dish is a mixture of baked beans with sauted shredded carrots, onions and tomatoes with a little curry added (pretty good).
2) shopa (sp?) … This sandwich is available for only a dollar or two at many local tuck shops.  They take a quarter or more of a loaf of unsliced bread, hull at a portion of the bread and fill the hole with a slice of cheese, achar (think of it as a tangy relish), mystery meat (it’s bright pink and no one really knows what it is but my best guess is something like bologna), and French fries (yep, you read correctly … French fries!!!) and then the bread earlier removed is placed back on top. Very filling!  I’ve had it once just to have it.  Many of the younger PCVs are runner/joggers and they don’t seem to mind the carb-overload a couple of times a week.
3) Homemade scones and “fatty cakes” … the scones do NOT rival the ones from Alon’s Bakery back in Atlanta, but considering where we are, they are pretty darn good.  The fatty cakes are much like large, fried doughnut holes.  Some local women are often selling both items outside the gates of one of the places where we attend classes. The pastries come 5 in a bag and cost only 5 Rand (~75 cents).  It’s probably just as well that I’ve only recently discovered these. Some PCVs host mothers make the fatty cakes for them several mornings a week.  I subtly queried our host mother about them and she said she doesn’t make them because they are so unhealthy.  She right, but nonetheless, I’ll see if I can find the recipe somewhere for those times when something unhealthy is just what I want!

The grocery stores in our current shopping town towns are well stocked and we can find most things we want/need.  The bakeries at the grocery stores are good, too.  The Pic’n Pay bakery bakes fresh loaves of bread daily and the price is only 50-60 cents a loaf.  The pastry items such as doughnuts are good, too, when fresh.  (Can you tell I have a thing for pastries???) A weekly treat is to get a couple of croissants to have with Nutella. Can’t complain about roughing it too much!  Stores also carry a large variety of cookies and candy.  Given the British influence in SA, Cadbury’s has the larger market on the candy shelf, but there is a surprising number of American sweets, too (e.g., Snickers and Oreos). What I find most limiting are the selections of meat (if you don’t count chicken parts!). Lunch meat, ham, pork loins, turkey, and a variety of beef cuts just aren’t to be found.  I haven’t ventured into some of the local butcher shops, so maybe after I move to our permanent site in a few weeks, making friends with the local butcher may become a priority … or else become a part-time vegetarian!

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