Monday in a Picture – Fresh

Swaziland has a huge agricultural society. In the rural community, almost every family has a field or two for the purpose of growing food. If you happen to live in a more urban setting and/or lack agricultural savvy but still want fresh fruits and veggies, you’re in luck. 

At bus ranks and other places where many people congregate, there’s likely many bomake (pronounced bo-mah-gay), or women who have set up temporary stalls with an abundance of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season. The prices are typically very reasonable and it presents the opportunity to support small business projects. The above photo was taken outside of the Mbabane bus rank last week. As you may see, mangos are now in season! This is reason to celebrate. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Fat cakes

So, I’ve mentioned these before. A fat cake is a fried ball of sugary dough. While it definitely isn’t the standard of nutritious meals, it is delicious. 

Within a month of arriving in Swaziland, I was introduced to fat cakes. Bomake (pronounced boe-mah-gay), or women sell them at the markets, schools, and road side stands. After having several magnificent fat cake experiences and seeing the recipe in our Peace Corps cookbook, I decided that I would try to make them myself. 

Here’s the recipe, as written in the cook book:

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Oil for frying
  1. Mix dry ingredients. 
  2. Stir in egg and milk. 
  3. For lumpy mafeti (pronounced mah-fay-tee), or fat cakes, drop by spoonfuls into hot oil. 
  4. For better looks, roll out to about 3/4 inch thickness on a well floured surface and cut into triangles before frying. 
  5. For a chewier texture, knead dough with extra flour for about five minutes and let rest for half an hour before rolling out.

I should probably say that I took a few culinary, creative liberties. Of note, I did not use measuring cups. While mixing, I just added more wet or dry ingredient until the mixture was a consistency between that of pancake batter and bread dough. I also did not have cardamom. It wasn’t in my budget, and it’s not that serious. Instead, I added a generous amount of imitation vanilla extract. When the dough was ready, I heated up my makeshift deep fryer (a pot filled with cooking oil). I scooped out a oversized spoonful, and dipped the spoon in the oil. The deep fried goodness was almost ready for enjoyment. After I removed the cooked fat cakes from the hot oil, I let them rest and cool for a minute or two. The last step is perhaps the most important. I poured some powdered sugar (known as icing sugar here in Swaziland) in a plastic bag, and added the freshly fried (still warm) fat cakes. A vigorous shake ensures that the fat cakes are nicely covered. They are now ready to enjoy! Try out the recipe, and let me know how it goes. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

Yummy Yummy Yums

One of the things that my Aunt Nae always wants to know is, “how’s the food?” With that in mind, let’s talk about food.

I need to preface this post by saying that although Swaziland is a very small country, I have only been to a very small fraction of the places in the country. Much of my culinary experience in Swaziland comes from my homestead experience. My sikhoni (sister in law, in case you forgot) typically cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I am typically only around for dinner. Sometimes, I cook for myself. Sometimes, I eat with the family.

Breakfast for me usually consists of oatmeal and/or fruit. It’s easy and difficult to mess up for non morning people, like myself. Breakfast for my family is usually sour porridge. It’s made from fermented mealie meal. In case you we wondering, mealie meal is a maize based thick flour. It’s a flavor that I had to get used to, but with some sugar, it’s perfect. I can’t really describe the flavor. As far as its appearance, it looks a lot like grits (which I haven’t seen here).

Lunchtime brings about different things. Sour porridge can be had for lunch as well. Porridge (as in not fermented or sour) can be enjoyed for lunch. Porridge is mealie meal that is added to boiling water and stirred/mixed until it’s very thick. Porridge is typically made in large quantities and serves as a base for lunch and/or dinner. As it’s very thick, it is eaten with the hands and used to pick up meat or whatever else is served with it. My lunch typically consists of a chicken salad sandwich. Canned chicken is readily available and refrigeration is not a concern. Add a bit of bbq garlic seasoning and it’s my own piece of midday paradise between two slices of bread.

For dinner, porridge is the sustaining puzzle piece. I believe that porridge here is the same as pap in South Africa. With our porridge, we’ve had stewed chicken or spinach, sometimes with a butternut squash mash. The porridge really doesn’t have a flavor, so it goes well with anything. We’ve also had rice and beans for dinner. I think the rice and (kidney) beans may be among my favorite meals in the country. It’s definitely my favorite meal at the homestead! One thing to note is that the portions are huge. I have attempted to clear my plate several times, and failed. The food is very filling.

I’ll close with snacks and some of the things that I’ve enjoyed outside of the homestead experience. First, chicken dust. The chicken is grilled on the side of the road, and served with some porridge and salad. The chicken is super flavorful and delicious. Next, there’s fat cakes. One of the other trainees told me about these. I’m forever thankful. Some of the women sell these fat cakes on the side of the road, in addition to other goods. What is a fat cake, you ask? It’s a fried ball of dough. It’s very similar to a funnel cake or beignet, but heavier and without powdered sugar. Talk about next level delicious. Next, one of the folks in my cohort introduced me to sugar cane. Pure succulent sugar cane. I don’t have it as much as I would like, and that’s a good thing. The cane juice is perfect for a refreshing pick me up in the midday’s hot sun. Lastly, there are these lemon cream cookies that we have during tea breaks (former British colony). They are also next level delicious. They may, or may not, be the reason I look forward to going to class. I think I might have a bit of a sweet tooth.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.