Those who know me personally know that not having grown up in Malawi is something that I’ve found to be bittersweet. I was exposed to amazing opportunities growing up in Botswana and South Africa but I still carry around a guilt when I think about it. It feels like I ran away from the hardships of my country while most of my family members had to live that reality daily. So even when I visit, I often fail to enjoy the experience because I’ll be riddled and focused on this guilt. Thankfully, I’m slowly learning to let go of this and not blame myself for the fortunate circumstances I’ve found myself in.
I recently went back home for about four weeks and call It maturity, unlearning or this new path of forgiveness I’m on, but for the first time I was able to appreciate the outstanding beauty my country had to offer. I was home, surrounded by family and reconnecting and it felt amazing.
I’ve recently found myself very interested in learning more about African food and cuisine and transforming how it is viewed in terms of fine dining. While I was home I made it a point to immerse myself in the food culture and here are some of the few things I picked up on;
Fresh Produce – You wont get anything more organic than this. In Malawi, processed food is expensive, that and the culture of eating fresh produce has meant that Vegetable markets can thrive. Markets like The Lizulu Market in Lilongwe exist throughout the country selling fresh produce daily. You can find anything from the fruits in seasons (Lots of Mangoes) to different varieties of Legumes to fresh tea leaves to a wide range of potatoes and herbs. This was a heaven for me.Commodities like Hibiscus or Bwemba (known as Tamarind) are so easily accessible in Malawi as they grow freely. These are often considered luxuries in places like Johannesburg and are mostly found at specialty shops. I stocked up on the Hibiscus leaves and have been enjoying them as an ice daily since.
Fish-Lake Malawi is one of Malawi’s greatest treasures. Not only is it beautiful wonder but it also inhabits over five hundred different species of fish.
We visited the lake for one weekend and I was amazed to see how the fishermen cycled across the beach and by residential areas selling their catch of their day. Fish so fresh you’d be doing it a disservice by adding anything more than salt and pepper. I ate fish at every chance I got prepared in all the ways you can think of.Eating Out – A lot of western fast food outlets have recently started popping up in Malawi but while I was there I had no interest in these as usual. I tagged along with my sister in law a lot and she asked to take me to Area 13 – vendors come together selling local food. The area is mostly filled with people on their lunch breaks coming to fetch a hot plate of food. The variety of food included different types of fish or chicken prepared in different ways. Beef shin is also a local favourite accompanied by vegetables and staples; rice and nsima. When you move into the more urban parts of Lilongwe you’ll find places like The Four Seasons. A little hidden gem of fine dining and overpriced handcrafted and hand made clothes, jewelry and accessories. I sat at The Garden Shop for lunch and as much as the scenery was beautiful, I found the food terribly overpriced but this is also because I’m very big on economizing with food. It was a beautiful experience none the less. Sustainability – People grow their own food in their own backyards and for those who are lucky, keep their own livestock like chickens, goats and pigs. It’s something I’ve always loved about Malawi but have not been able to do in a place like Johannesburg because you’re even lucky to find an apartment with a backyard. People would rather buy a live chicken and slaughter it themselves than buy frozen chicken from a supermarket.
I hope that I get to explore Malawi more and the rest of Africa unpacking food culture and flavour.