The business of food
When we first moved to Mozambique, the food was something of an ordeal. After experiencing food shortages in Zimbabwe due to the hyper-inflation, I was beside myself with excitement when we got the job across the border. For one, it meant we did not need to buy food on the black market anymore. And two, being an ex-chef, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a fat Mozambican prawn. For 1 year we had mostly lived on avo sandwiches and bright pink, over-processed pork sausages. Mozambique would surely become my prawn and piri piri paradise!
But first there were challenges. I was still holding onto the memories and standards of working in a Michelin star restaurant in the UK. Things like buying a chicken would completely freak me out. It’s not unusual to find that the chicken you have just purchased is still half feathered with guts and poop-hole in tact and a pipe full of undigested chicken feed from it’s last meal. I use to complain bitterly to the shop owners about quality, lecturing them endlessly! But my talk fell on deaf ears. The only comments they offered were amongst themselves; “she must be a new one.”
I also had to get use to the Mozambican’s rough way of handling their ‘meat.’ Most Mozambicans do not own a fridge or freezer. They buy fresh, live meat and cull it when the pot is ready and boiling.
We’ve been here for 6 years now, but there are some things I will never get use to. The sound of a goat or pig being slaughtered – something I must endure on a monthly basis. My Mozambican neighbor has a large family to feed. He buys a goat at a time, slaughters it with a knife and bleeds it from the sturdy branch of a mango tree. I am now fully aware that we all have different ideas about food, about what is acceptable and what is not.
This is not a pretty post! I’m sure some of you are repelled by it. But the fact is that food is food here. When I look at an animal, I mostly look at it with compassion. I associate it with feelings. I wonder whether it is in pain? I wonder if it’s frightened? It’s easy for me to afford those feelings. When a Mozambican looks at an animal, they’re most likely visualizing a chunk of meat in a stew with rice. They’re thinking, ‘if my child has a bit of that goat, he may have enough strength to beat his illness, he may survive.’ Or simply, damn I’m hungry!
When funds for food are scarce, you’re starving or haven’t had protein for a couple months – I can assure you that your outlook on food will change. It becomes functional, it becomes a means to survive.
But of course, there are cases when it’s simply a matter of taste. Rodents are fairly popular here - namely the rat kebabs, cane rats and roasted guinea pig. The picture of the tyre is a guinea pig den. The guinea pigs live in darkness, staying covered at all times to prevent them from being eaten by dogs and cats.
As I have suggested, protein is often considered a luxury, a treat. I’d say that the average Mozambican has a fairly healthy diet; mostly consisting of rice, fresh coconut, organic vegetables, plenty of fruit, beans and every now and again, a little chicken and fish.
“If you don’t like the frog because it eats slugs, then you will have no meal.”
I like to think that I have loosened up about food since moving here and am a little less sensitive to the sight of blood and guts! I’m able to zone out the smell of rotting fish while meandering through the maze of market stalls. I’m able to get really close up to a chargrilled rat kebab for a good look without launching into a series of mock charges! I wont deny, it’s taken me some years to reach this point. I knew it when a maggot crawled up my leg while standing next to some sun-dried fish. I flicked the squidgy larva off and casually stepped aside. Mozambique has changed me and I’m pleased about that. It’s toughened me up a bit and helped me realize what is important and what is not. Not to faff about the small stuff and to accept, respect and like people who I have absolutely nothing in common with.
“One spoon of soup in need has more value than a pot of soup when we have an abundance of food.”
For those of you who have not been to Mozambique and plan to go, there is one thing you should know. Never judge a book by it’s cover! This can be said for most Mozambican buildings! If they are painted with bright luminous colours or if they have not been painted for 40 years and look like a tip, it’s probably the best restaurant in town! Go inside. And don’t be put off by a menu with a few English errors. Below is a list of menu items available from one of the first restaurants we went to in Beira. The restaurant has come a long way since then and is now one of the favourite restaurants in Beira amongst the Portuguese expats.
Sucking Pig with ordinary salad (lettuce and onion) and chips
Steak on stone
Roast Sardine on Portuguese style
Beef with Special Sauce
8 pieces of steamy prawn
Roast Smoked Pork Sausage
Side Orders listed as Tit bids
Wood pecker listed on the Tit bids Menu
Half a dozen of milk
And remember, some of the food may not be your cup of tea, but guaranteed it will be someone else’s…..or something else’s!