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Shani and welcome to Zambia. Of the Southern African countries we visited last year, Zambia was the one we spent the least amount of time in. To be fair it was only a morning microlite flight and a Zambezi whitewater trip that got us across the border, so it barely counts if you were keeping score. What many people don't know is that Victoria Falls straddles the Zimbabwe – Zambia border so both countries lay claim to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The colonial township of Livingstone sits on the Zambian side of the falls while Victoria Falls township, the more widely known and accessible of the two, sits on the Zimbabwean side.
Geographically, Zambia sits directly north of both Botswana and Zimbabwe. It also shares borders with Namibia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. Up until very recently, the land locked nation has largely stayed off the tourist map, partly due to a difficult visa process, risk of yellow fever and the furore around Ebola. Having addressed those, Zambia is quickly building a name for itself as one of the only countries to guarantee wildlife sightings without being in a fenced area. Its comparative lack of tourism results in safaris that are significantly cheaper and less crowded than elsewhere in Southern and East Africa.
When it comes to eating in Zambia, the cuisine is heavily centered around starches or more specifically nshima. Nshima is made from maize (corn) that is processed into a fine white powder called ‘mealie meal’. Think back to the likes of Botswana and Zimbabwean 'sadza', and South African and Namibian 'miele pap'. Nshima is cooked by mixing the corn meal with water and then bringing it to the boil to form a porridge (similar to grits) with Play-Doh like consistency. More cornmeal is added until it develops a thicker texture. The cornmeal can be substituted for cassava, sorghum and millet.
Nshima is part of almost every Zambian meal and is often served in a sauce with meat from cows, goats, sheep, and fish and one or two vegetables. The vegetables include leaves from beans, okra, cowpeas, pumpkins, cassava, onions and tomatoes. Nshima is usually prepared for lunch and dinner.
Maize may also be eaten in other ways. When the corn is ripe but still green, it can be roasted or boiled. When it is dry and hard, it can be fried or boiled. It can also be pounded slightly to remove the outside layer and boiled either by itself or mixed with beans or groundnuts (peanuts). At times the maize is ground to a size a little bigger than rice and is cooked like rice.
As in much of traditional African culture, all the cooking is done by the wife. In a traditional setting, boys from the age of seven eat with the man of the house. The mother eats with the girls and the younger boys. This is because all of the children below the age of seven are under the guidance of their mother. This is changing, especially in towns and cities.
So when it came to our take on Zambian cuisine we went with the tried and tested, basing a meal around nshima alongside a meat and sauce. Smothered over fried pork, the tasty peanut based sauce, or groundnut sauce, proved to be a winner. It also happened to be very easy to prepare, kind of like your typical Tuesday night home-made satay. On the side we had a very simple sorghum soup and a Zambian orange salad, adding some freshness and zest to the meal. Capping it off, was cassava pancakes, the most instagrammable dish of the lot and the cherry on top for any sweet tooth.
1 cup maize meal
1. Fill a large saucepan two-thirds full of water and bring to a boil.
2. In a mixing bowl, mix 2 cups cold water and 1 cup cornmeal.
3. Add mixture to boiling water and reduce heat to medium.
4. Cover pot and cook 5 minutes.
5. Then stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to remove lumps.
6. Gradually add more cornmeal, 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring to keep porridge smooth. As it thickens, reduce additions to 1 tablespoon at a time until porridge is Play-Doh consistency (about 20 minutes).
7. Remove from heat, cover pot, and let stand a few minutes before serving.
Sorghum Soup ingredients:
1 kg sorghum grains
1 cup pounded groundnuts (peanuts)
Sorghum Soup method:
1. Wash grain thoroughly. 2. Boil the sorghum until soft. 3. Add salt and pounded nuts. 4. Stir and simmer until ready to serve.
Zambian Orange Salad ingredients:
3 oranges, peeled and sliced crosswise ½ cantaloupe/rock melon, thinly sliced 2 cups carrots, shredded 2 Tbsp olive oil 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar Juice of ½ lemon 2 tsp Dijon mustard 2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
Zambian Orange Salad method:
1. Divide oranges, cantaloupe and carrots among salad plates.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard and mint. Drizzle over salads and serve.
Wild boar in Groundnut Sauce ingredients:
2-3 lbs wild boar or pork (any part); cut into bite-sized or serving-sized pieces
salt (to taste)
black pepper (to taste)
a few onions, chopped
a few tomatoes, peeled and chopped
one cup peanut butter (natural or homemade), or similar amount of fresh or roasted peanuts
oil for frying
Wild boar in Groundnut Sauce method:
1. If using peanuts instead of peanut butter: Roast the peanuts in a baking pan in a hot oven, or on the stove in a large skillet, stirring often. Remove the skins from the peanuts and mash them with a mortar and pestle, mince them with a knife, crush them with a rolling pin, or chop them fine in a food-processor.
2. Heat a few spoonfulls of oil in a large pot. Add the meat and fry it until it is browned but not done. Reduce heat.
3. Add water, salt, and pepper and simmer for about half an hour.
4. Add the tomatoes and onions and contine to simmer until the meat is done and becoming tender.
5. Remove some of the liquid and mix it with the peanut butter to make a smooth sauce.
6. Add to the meat-tomato-onion mixture.
7. Continue to simmer on a very low heat until the meat is very tender.
Cassava Pancakes ingredients:
2 roots of medium size sweet cassava
1 cup oil
3 tbsp sugar
Cassava Pancakes method:
1. Peel and wash the cassava roots.
2. Wipe dry with clean cloth and grate.
3. Beat the egg.
4. Place the grated cassava into a bowl and add sugar, ginger powder, and the beaten egg. Mix well.
5. Heat up a frying pan and add a bit of oil.
6. Pour batter into hot pan. Flip pancake when lightly brown on one side.
Here are some interesting tidbits about the country:
Despite the amount of people who live in Zambia (17 million), The entire country’s telephone directory is not even one inch thick.
Termite hills in Zambia can often grow to be as big as a cottage, large enough to house a small pony.
The Devil’s Pool is a naturally formed “armchair” near the edge of Victoria Falls. When the river flow is at a certain level, usually between September and December, a rock barrier forms an eddy with minimal current, allowing swimmers to hang out in relative safety a few feet from the point where the water cascades over.
Considering we barely saw the country, there are plenty of places on our bucket list. Here are a few of them:
Stand on the quadripoint. There’s only one place in the world where four countries meet at a single frontier – and that’s at the four-way border between Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
Watch the Kasanka Bat migration, one of the largest annual mammal migrations on the planet. Every October, straw-coloured fruit bats start arriving in search of ripening palm fruit and flowers, reaching numbers of around eight million by mid-November. At dusk, you’ll start to hear their incessant chatter and, before long, you’ll see the bats heading out in search of food, the entire colony leaving in a steady stream, like a ribbon of black twisting across the sky.
Join a walking safari in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia’s most famous. The guides here are considered some of the continents most knowledgeable and it’s little wonder considering the park is home to the original walking safari pioneered in the 1950’s.
Next up is Angola. Although we haven’t been there (yet), we tried cooking some cuisine from there in early 2017, back when we were working our way through countries in alphabetical order. Join our subscribers list and you'll get an email informing you of our next post!
Aaron and Sean killing it on the Zambezi!