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Our first view flying into Zimbabwe was the plume of mist that hovers over the largest waterfall in the world, Victoria Falls. The falls were a major draw card for us and they certainly didn't disappoint. Despite getting soaking wet in the waterfall mist, a welcome relief from the African heat, the magnificent views and roaring Zambezi were breathtaking. In his diary, British explorer, David Livingstone described the falls as "so lovely [they] must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Karla fact checked this during a microlight flight over the falls before we departed.
Aside from seeing "the smoke that thunders," we also engaged in some epic Grade-5 white water rafting, an evening river cruise, and high tea at The Victoria Falls Hotel. The local furry residents also enjoyed the cuisine on offer as per the photo below, although apparently sugar sachets are better (or perhaps just easier) to steal then scones and tea cakes.
One of our biggest travel challenges was not being able to purchase local food and crafts as there was simply no currency in circulation. The banks had no cash so we couldn't withdraw from the ATM either. Everything came down to credit card, if a machine was available, and suspicious looking "bond notes." After talking to locals and doing a little research of our own we learned the following:
When the US dollar was adopted by Zimbabwe following hyperinflation in 2008-2009, money supply within the country became entirely dependent on money inflow. Unfortunately with no substantial exports there has been no foreign currency injection. In a desperate measure the government introduced "bond notes" in 2016. These were theoretically equivalent to a US dollar but have quickly deteriorated in value. So, when we purchased an item for 'x' amount of US dollars, in reality the shop owner would get that value in bond notes or if they tried getting it in US cash, it would be 50% or less of the original amount. It was disheartening to see many talented craftsmen and artists trying to sell their work to no avail.
When it came to eating and drinking in Zimbabwe, we found the cuisine within Victoria Falls catered toward an international and tourist palate. The beer however was local, so we made the most of the Zambezi, Bohlingers and Eagle lagers that were widely available.
Our home cooked Zimbabwean meal was inspired by the humble peanut. Although we didn't know to at the time during our trip, peanut butter is a regular feature in many of Zimbabwe's dishes. They love it and so do we! Joining us for our lunchtime meal was Aaron's uncle and aunt, Leo and Julie Fietje. It was great sharing this cuisine and a good drop of red with them!
Our first side dish, muriwo une dovi, is as good as it reads, greens smothered in peanut butter. Leafy greens are a staple in Africa because they are readily available. Most homes in Zimbabwe have a garden patch full of leafy greens. Those in rural areas are especially dependent on them because meat and other foods are not as abundant. A variety of greens may be used in this dish. We chose spinach, as it was easy to get a hold of, although kale, pumpkin leaves and Swiss chard are common alternatives.
The second side dish was the ever reliable melie pap, or in Zimbabwe, sadza. Sadza to the Zimbabweans is like pasta to the Italians or taro to Pacific Islanders. It is the country's number one staple food as well as their national dish. To illustrate this, the words sadza re masikati, or 'sadza of the afternoon' simply means lunch andSadza re manheru, or 'sadza of the evening' means dinner. It is simple cornmeal that is cooked plain and eaten alongside a gravy, vegetable stew or...peanut butter.
Our main meal,dovi, literally translated into peanut butter, is a peanut butter stew. Our African cookbook Tastes of Africa calls it 'Chicken thighs and spinach in peanut sauce'. The recipe calls for marrow (or courgettes or zucchini) but being out of season we substituted it with carrots.
For something sweet, we stumbled across chikenduza, or Zimbabwe candy cake. Apparently this is a favourite in the Harare city bakeries. It is a dense, yeasty cake with sweet icing, perfect for baking in a muffin tin. It's not much different then your typical yellow cake mixture, but it is a traditional treat that the locals love. Unfortunately we didn't have any red food colouring to recreate the exact look commonly seen in the country, but it still tasted divine. You can find the recipe here.
A food that we didn't try (or see unfortunately), but is considered very traditional to the country is dried mopane worms, or spiny caterpillars. It can be found in the open-air markets during the summer. Bought by the pound, they can be eaten fried and are said to taste salty with a good chew required. Maybe next time and if our stomachs are up for it, we'll try some!
Muriwo une dove
1 big bunch greens (spinach, kale, pumpkin leaves, Swiss chard)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoon peanut butter
Chilli flakes (optional)
1/2 cup water
Salt, to taste
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups white cornmeal (regular cornmeal may be used)
Dovi (Chicken thighs and spinach in peanut sauce)
6 chicken thighs
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, finely chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
3 baby marrows, slicked 1cm thick
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
500g shredded fresh spinach
Chikenduza (Candy cake)
3 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoon yeast
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm milk
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup softened butter
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoon water
red food coloring
Some necessary kitchen gadgets and tools:
Cooking skillet/ frying pan
A couple of pots
Here are some interesting tidbits about the country:
The thundering noise from Victoria Falls can be heard as far as 40 kilometres away. We heard it loud and clear each night from our tent accommodation perched just 2 kilometres away! (Thanks for that special experience Seano)
At the peak of inflation in 2008, Zimbabwe issued a 100 trillion dollar note. It's worth about US $0.40. We picked up a few for Karla's international currency collection.
It is illegal to sell or wear products bearing the colours of the Zimbabwean national flag. I guess they don't wear their patriotism on their sleeve so to say, like many of Karla's fellow countrymen.
Here's a few bucket list items we'd love to tick off next time we're in Zimbabwe:
Spend a few days in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe's largest national park. Hwange is know to have one of the largest populations of endangered wild dogs. Watching how these amazing critters work together, on David Attenborough's 'Planet Earth' is both mind-blowing and inspiring. It would be a highlight of any trip to see them. Hwange is also home to all of the Big 5.
Volunteer at Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation or another wildlife conservancy. We had planned on spending a week at Imire, but unfortunately the dates didn't quite work out with our schedule. Having now seen some of Africa's amazing wildlife, we'd love to make an effort to help save some of Africa's endangered species.
Eat a mopane worm and a dovi inspired dish at a local market and get a few pointers on how to prepare one.
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