ON arriving in this bit of Africa, nearly 40 years ago, I reluctantly and gingerly tried the local staple dish, sadza, which almost everyone raved about.
Reluctantly because, it looked, to me, rather like wallpaper paste!
Iâ€™ve never been a great one for eating with fingers, and on rolling a ball of upfu and tasting it (probably with a face like a burst backside!) I suspected it almost certainly had the flavour of warm wallpaper paste!
Canâ€™t say I was mad about the colour: cut-worm white, taste (nothing, other than its accompaniments), smell (ditto) or texture. Sorry, sunshine, give me mash, or almost any form of potatoes, or rice any time.
(I admit preferring a good plump pork banger to boerewors and other than on Kariba houseboat treks, Tiger Fishing tournaments or more recently when, due to shortages I was famished, manage without biltong!)
There you areâ€¦ an almost unreformed rooinek!
African Sunâ€™s publicist Farayi Mangwende threatened to take me to Fridayâ€™s “indigenous” buffet at Vumba Restaurant, Harare Holiday Inn, for months, but something always crept up delaying this arrangement.
Friday was the other way round. The monthly Greendale Good Food & Wine Appreciation Society lunch was, for the first time in 27 years, cancelled due to most membersâ€™ inability to get hold of, or reluctance to part with, the at least $2 trillion (old money, $200, new loot!) the v-p, possibly optimistically, estimated graze at Flat Dog Diner, Msasa would be.
Speaking by e-mail on other matters I revealed I was totally unexpectedly free and as long as she didnâ€™t order mopani worms (caterpillars) we were “ON!”
Suppose mushrooms are “indigenous”? (But not exclusively so) and chef Patrick Mpofuâ€™s home-made, thick, creamy mushroom soupâ€”jam-packed with fungi and flavour, just hit the spot, served with delicious, dinky, in-hotel baked rolls.
The sun shone brightly, but it was chilly. Iâ€™d gone outside thinking it may be warmer than in the draughty foyer, pre-lunch, and noted for the first time (half asleep before?) the swimming poolâ€™s in almost total shade by 1230. The one at Rainbow Towers gets a wee tad more sunlight.
What were the hotel architects doing? Donâ€™t they know travellers from northern climes like to peg themselves out broiling in full sunshine almost all of our short tropical days?
Still musing over this: enjoying starters of conventional salads, remarkable for freshness and crispness. I liked a combination of contrasting flavours of pickled blood-red beetroot and citrus slivers and coleslaw and mixed leaves; lovely ripe tomatoes, peppers and avocado combined to make a wonderful whole.
This was where the indigenous bit began. Matembaâ€™s another name for kapenta; in the First World itâ€™s whitebait, but usually comes from estuaries, with that extra flavour-kick most saltwater fish has over most freshwater ditto. I was shocked by the tiny fish: just fry, smaller than guppies. Are we using undersized nets to harvest them, so desperate are we for protein and profit? If so, itâ€™s very ill-advised.
I (predictably) skipped black, ugly, unappetising looking mopani worms. Craven cowardice: at a similar buffet at the then Sheraton Hotel, my then mother-in-law, a dear Cockney soul, tried the grubs: after more than half a century here. She was glad sheâ€™d finally eaten one of these delicacies, but was in no hurry to repeat the experience! I had crushed nzungu (prosaic peanuts.)
For someone not keen on the stuff, it was frustrating there were two sadzas (regular: from maize) and sadza re zviyo (drought resistant rapokoâ€¦to be encouraged, I suppose!)
I went for roast spuds, a little white rice with vegetable folded in and mupunga une dovi (without veg, a smear of peanut butter whipped in) to go with my very unadventurous chunks of chicken in braai sauce and the one lump of Kariba bream I found without a milky lifeless eye staring at me balefully!
Farayi drooled over mapapu, which I was about to ladle on until hearing it was a thick rich stew of lumps of ox-lung!) Daft I suppose, I thoroughly enjoyed oxtail at Amanzi two days earlier. This buffet usually also has on offer pigsâ€™ trotters, comfort food in both Central Africa and British West Yorkshire, where I grew up. Beef and pork bones are also usually served.
Maitre dâ€™ Clemence Mpofu impressed. In the best tradition of that noble calling his eyes were everywhere and it would take the honed powers of observation of a veteran foodie to spot his silent signals and eloquent body language to “waitrons”. Our waiter, Lizwe Nyathi, anxious to please and anticipatory, was civil not servile. He was “very sorry” the hotel had only “quarts” (750ml bottles) of beautifully chilled Pilsener, not the usual 375ml “pints”. I wasnâ€™t!
Puddings included fresh fruit salad, trifle, carrot cake and chocolate mousse, three types of ice-cream and usually has indigenous favourites: nzimbe (sugar cane), masawu fruit, mawaya tart and pumpkin fritters.
I ended with filter coffee, presumably from such rural areas as Honde Valley or Chipinge!
Something for everyone on this Friday buffet and if third world Groupie-Scandihooligan-type travellers return, lusting to try “native food” but worrying if the term is a tad PC, spreads like this should suffice satisfactorily!