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Monday, December 3, 2007

Africa: A traditional Ovambo meal


One of the best experiences of our trip was in Swakopmund, Namibia. Swakop is a small city in northwestern Namibia and is located on the Atlantic coast. It has a population of approximately 29,000. The city's German origins are very evident, with the city centre filled with many examples of German colonial architecture. Being on the cooler coast, it's a very popular holiday resort, particularly during the summer months, and hosts many adventure activities, such as quad biking, sky diving, or sand boarding.

When you reach a place like Swakop, it's easy to get immersed in the adrenaline activities or backpacker culture and not do anything "real". We were fortunate though. Our guide Heini was from Swakop and he took us on a township tour through the suburb of Mondesa. We went to some shops that had been set up in shipping containers, the food market, a local bar, and were even welcomed into someone's home. After the township, we went to his mum's house for dinner, where we were met by a group of girls singing and dancing. We were led into the backyard where a long table had been set up. Peering over the fences on either side of their property was a crowd of curious neighbour who stayed there watching the whole time.

Heini's grandmother gave us a speech (which he translated) welcoming us to her home. She was so warm and seemed so happy to have us there. His family are Ovambo, the largest tribe in Namibia, and we got to try a traditional meal.

Fat cookies
Fat cookies

On the tables were a few snacks – bowls of chips (not traditional!) and fat cookies. Fat cookies seem to be balls of slightly sweet, fried dough. If you've ever eaten the sweet version of yau ja gwai (a Chinese fried dough) it's very similar. However, I think I know why they're called fat cookies. They were delicious but felt very unhealthy.

Oshifima - millet porridge

After we were all seated, a bowl of warm water was passed around to wash our hands, as traditionally cutlery isn't used (or so we were told). Plates of oshifima (stiff pearl millet porridge also known as omahangu), came out. Millet is a staple of the northern Namibian diet, and not only is it used to make porridge, but a drink called oshikundu is made by fermenting it. Oshikundu is a sour-sweet drink and has quite a strong cereal taste. It's a taste to be acquired! I didn't take a photo of the drink, but found one on flickr.

Etiti's - the left with pounded beans and the right with spinach

We tore off pieces of oshifima and rolled it into balls. This was then dipped into the etiti's (shallow clay pots). One etiti held a spinach mixture and the other held pounded beans.

The oshifima seemed to be an acquired taste. It was quite bland, and it took a bit of practice to dunk it into the sauce without dropping it or getting stuff all over your fingers!

Chicken in marsala sauce

There was also plates of chicken cooked in a marsala sauce. The chicken was juicy and very delicious.

Mopane worms
Mopane worms

Last were bowls of mopane worms. Mopane worms are large caterpillars that feed on the mopane tree. I'm proud to say that almost everyone in our group tried one. They were.... interesting. I eat pretty much anything (as you may have noticed) but I have a psychological aversion to eating insects. I tried one anyway, and it actually wasn't too bad. It had a gritty texture and tasted a bit like salty tea leaves. However, one was enough for me. I can cross that off the eating list!

After dinner the kids danced for us. All the children we met along the way were affectionate and oh so gorgeous. These ones were no exception. We got hugs from them as we left - just another little thing that made the evening so special.

By the way, photos from our trip can be seen on here on flickr.

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