Mud huts and traditional dances.

 

The dance was authentic but cooking in the Malawi village https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zOu3AYr5eZA&feature=youtu.be was rather a cheat: instead of basic pots over a fire on the ground, we used a sort of field kitchen.  But I did manage to pound cassava leaves in the long-handled pestle and mortar.

Our hosts from the Latitude 13 hotel in Lilongwe www.latitudehotels.com.

had contacts in this simple rural village.  Hotel Manager, Mehul, Head Chef, Cephus,  and his sous chef, Mphatso,  made all the arrangements from the kitchen equipment and transport to the ingredients and treats for the children.  As we left, the hotel team were planning future support to make those village lives a little easier.

The houses were simple round structures: built with hand-made mud bricks and roughly rendered.  They have to be careful to avoid the carcinogens when firing the bricks over open fires.  The basic thatched rooves were perhaps cooler in the hot climate and easy to create from the local vegetation but had waterproof  liners for rainy days.  Even the communal latrine hut was immaculate.   If you spend most of the time outside, just basic airy and cool indoor sleeping spaces are probably enough.

It was the structured village culture that was so impressive.  In a place without electricity or running water, everything and everyone was neat, tidy, clean and orderly.  Everyone had turned out to watch this strange blind woman attempt their recipes.

The women and youngest children sat chatting and laughing on their own large straw mat while, alongside, the older children sat on theirs – politely patient with the proceedings.  The few chairs were set out in the shade for the elder men  as befitting their age and status.  Only the adolescent young men ranged around the edges: understandably bemused,  rather bored and dismissive of the whole spectacle.

The subsequent village dance was more to their taste.  We trundled over the rough terrain for a mile or so to a large clear space where many of the local people had gathered to celebrate their chieftain.  There were wildly exotic costumes and masks, much foot-stomping to the sound of cheers and singing.  They were all having a wonderful time   and I was the one sitting on a throne-like bench  taking in every bit of the fun.

It was all rather humbling to have been given such a very warm welcome and been admitted in to the lives of all these people.  I came away with considerable respect for and better insight in to a way of life that was so different in many ways but also so familiar in others.

 

 

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Laboratory or Kitchen?

Potassium permanganate reminds me more of chemistry than domestic science lessons.  But Head Chef, Cephus, taught me how to make salad safe in a very hot climate. https://youtu.be/ySvfk61wL4E

I was at the wonderfully eclectic and renowned Latitude 13 Hotel www.latitudehotels.com in Lilongwe, capital of Malawi, in Africa: cooking under the shade of a huge tree beside children joyously romping in the swimming pool.  It was part of my prize-winning tour: cooking across six continents.

We were making a haloumi salad but first needed to ensure that the lettuce was bacteria-free.  Even when food is locally grown, if there isn’t enough refrigeration between the farm and hotel kitchen, the heat can create a breeding ground for bugs.  Consequently, our first step was to dissolve the potassium permanganate in water to create a purplish bath in which to soak the lettuce to kill off any bacteria.  Once rinsed, there’s no difference in taste but a much safer salad.

Cephus is a great advocate for local farmers and food producers.  He had devised his own version of polenta using “sema”: the traditional maize flour porridge-style dish that features at nearly every Malawian meal.  For this cooking session, he was using local haloumi which he fried to give a crispy coat to the cheese.   He added more texture with homemade vegetable crisps: beetroot, carrot and butternut squash.  The whole dish was topped with a magnificent cooked dressing using the pulp of passion fruit (or granadillas as they are known locally).

Salad sounds simple but this was far more sophisticated.