The International festival held at the University of Johannesburg last week Friday was packed with fun, music and culture. For some of us the only contact we had with this event was the soft sound of music, and cheering crowds when making our way to class.
If you were stuck in class there’s no need to worry, because I happen to have a really dishy story for you and I mean that in every sense of the word.
Behind the large stage that was set up over the fountain was a group of tents; each representing a different country on the African continent.
Each tent was adorned with traditional ornaments, photos of natural wonders and of course – the food. Curious attendees were given small white Styrofoam containers to dish up samples to taste.
There was so much food to try, too many hungry people (hungry for food and knowledge) and not enough space in my stomach. So after I visited the Ivorian tent I took it upon myself to interview other people who got their food from different tents. These included Somalia and Malawi.
When looking at the array of foods available on the table I noticed that the options were not completely foreign to me. I saw white rice, chilli, beef, gravy (I could taste onions and tomatoes) and beef. What I wasn’t familiar with something called cassava. A fellow African was kind enough to explain to me the process of making the fluffy powder white dish. It comes from a long brown tubular plant of the same name that is peeled and sun-dried for many days. It is then ground to form a white powdery substance often through the use of machinery.
Yes, it tasted great but I had already had a sandwich before that so I had no room for any other samples. Just looking at the food from the other stands gave me a stomach ache. But luckily for us, I wasn’t the only one looking to tickle my palate.
Common picks from the Malawian tent included white rice, beef, sardines, cream spinach and chitumbuwa (a sort of vetkoek made of maize meal). Amidst all the chaos I met copyrighter Paul Bander, and UJ students Sinethemba Mnguni and Solethu Gida all of whom really enjoyed their Malawian food samples.
Bander had chitumbuwa, along with some sardines (this word was escaping me as I referred to them as “baby fish”).
Mnguni, Gida’s bowls were filled a little bit more than that of Bander. They both had white rice, cream spinach, beef, and sardines.
At this point, you might have noticed a trend of white rice gracing people’s bowls. But now I give you a plot twist – rainbow coloured rice! UJ student Ashlee Nofal got the curious Somali treat along with some, red meat and what appears to be the Somali version of an English pancake.
Her friend, Kiki Siseko, also had a pancake a strange piece of dried fruit I had never encountered called a “date”. Apparently, this is a dried fruit that is harvested for its sweet flavour.
No disrespect to Somalia but I think it just tasted like a giant raisin that didn’t get the memo about tasting sweet. The rainbow rice stays winning. If you can’t find it in the photo it’s the big brown oval-like object lying underneath the thin pancake.
Most Popular Stands
Ivory Coast, Somalia and Malawi weren’t the only countries that were garnering lots of attention from festival attendees. The Nigerian tent had an overflow of visitors who were asking for the fried rice. Zimbabwe was so popular that I couldn’t even get through the crowd to see exactly what was being offered to people. In my bid to experience as much as I could I happened to notice someone holding a plate of Masonja (Mopani worms). And I could only imagine that that came from the South African tent, but I could be wrong.
I still feel so bad that I didn’t get to taste something from every single tent. I keep picturing the food in my head thinking “why I didn’t just force into my stomach”, and “I’m sure it tasted really good”. I really felt I got to travel the world that day and I loved how some of the stage performers incorporated new fashions into their cultural showcase. I’m even more certain that I want to experience the continent and all the culture it has to offer through actual travel because there’s more to Africa than a few tasteless stereotypes.