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Suprising Reactions To Diferences Of Food When Immigrating
What It’s Like Living In South Africa As A Born Zimbabwean:
Food is one of the most basic and popular aspects in human nature and lifestyle. It is fundamental to survival as well as something that both brings people of many cultures together; as well as seperates them. Growing up; food is one of the main features of becoming part of your culture; as well as pesonal favourites being made. Often though, many are hesitant to explore the delicacies of other cultures. Food preferances is escpecially one of the difficulties when immigrating.
In any and all countries food preferences and delicacies are often specific to that country. It unites its citizens; food is one of the means of bringing people together. Being born and raised in Zimbabwe you are influenced by the culture of food around you. As with many countries, the types of food eaten and produced are different; and preferences are quickly made. The examples of this often bring some slight disgust from others who are from different lands. Here are some of the many examples of those reactions to everyday norms and delicacies.
The Food Of My Childhood:
One of the main staple foods in Zimbabwe is Sadza; a food product of Mealie-meal made from maize; also known as Mealies in southern Africa; which is turned into coarse flour. It is cooked with water in a pot over a fire or stove plate until it forms a firm, thick textured dish. It is eaten as a side dish with a variety of choices: stewed meat; spinach, cabbage, or pumpkin leaves in a peanut butter and tomato sauce; dried fish called Capenta mixed and cooked into a thick gravy; insects (Ishwas/ flying ants) roasted over a fire; and many others.
Spinach, cabbage and pumpkin leaves; depending on availability; are coarsely cut and sautéed in lightly salted onions; once slightly cooked, a combination of tomato paste and peanut butter mixed with a bit of boiled water is added and then simmered until well cooked.
Stewed meat is cooked in different flavours depending on the meat. Beef and other brown meats are cooked in a beef flavoured gravy; while chicken is cooked in a tomato-based gravy.
Capenta is a delicacy made from small, freshwater fish; which are salted and sun-dried until slightly crispy. It can be eaten alone as a salty snack; or cooked in a meaty gravy as a side dish with Sadza.
Flying Ants, commonly called Ishwas, are caught in large numbers. They are then de-winged, salted, and roasted in a pan over a fire or stove plate until cooked and crunchy. This delicacy too can be eaten alone as a salty snack; or cooked in a gravy also served alongside Sadza.
I grew up loving these dishes; and naturally did not find them odd in any way. When moving to South Africa, my family still cooked these dishes often. Capenta and Ishwas however were not available in this country; the only time I had these rare treats were when Zimbabwean family friends went back to Zimbabwe to visit home and brought back some for us.
My Dislike When Learning About South African Food:
As I made more South African friends at school, I started being introduced to common South African food. It seemed so foreign and unappetizing that I was reluctant to sample them. It was not a case of only major food being the differences; but also the use of ingredients for different purposes. One of the examples of small changes of ingredients was peanut butter and jam sandwiches. This sounded disgusting as I had never had peanut butter used for anything but making semi-savoury dishes. I decided to brave it but once I took a bite I couldn’t bring myself to swallow it; it tasted revolting.
Another example would be spinach. I had always had it with peanut butter and Sadza; a very flavourful dish. I learnt South Africans simply steamed or boiled it with salt. No other ingredients added. It was too salty and bland for me; to this day I cannot eat spinach like that; I’m simply too addicted to ‘my’ peanut butter spinach.
Then there are the main dishes that seem to this day seem too foreign for my liking. Others however; turn out to be quite pleasant. One example being Fish Kedgeree; a simply dish composing of cooked rice mixed with spices and either smoked or canned fish topped with cheese and baked until golden brown.
Seeing South African’s Disgust At Zimbabwean Food:
As I had my disgust at the ‘misuse’ of peanut butter and spinach by South Africans; so the same went for their disgust ay my ‘misuse’ of these ingredients. Having grown up with peanut butter being used for a sweet sandwich filler and spinach a salty side vegetable; they could not fathom using both for a side dish in a meal. I could understand their appalled reaction; it does indeed sound like a strange concoction. I however, still pushed people to try it ‘just once’; without much success, having had only one out of a few dozen who actually braved it. So I had to ease up on forcing people to try it.
The most humorous reactions I have had a good laugh over though; are of course those to people learning about Capenta and Ishwas. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to have Ishwas for quite some time now; they are most often found in the northern part of South Africa; close to the Zimbabwe border-line. I live near the bottom part of South Africa; on the Indian Ocean coast line; Ishwas unfortunately, are therefore non-existent here. I have, as I said, been fortunate to receive Capenta from fellow Zimbabweans every so often. With these I have had the most comical and enjoyable encounters. One example though; that stuck out above all the rest occurred quite recently; in my final year of high school. I had just received a pack of Capenta one Saturday morning and decided to try to get one of my best friends to try it out. On late Sunday afternoon I messaged her with my idea; she of course couldn’t picture what Capenta was from my description; so I decided to send her a picture of one up close. In hindsight, that wasn’t the best idea. Although each fish measures only a maximum of 4cm (0.39 inches); the closeness of the photo made it look a lot more menacing than it should have. This is partly because due to being dried whole; they often retain their eyes; and in the photo the eye looked very large and seemed to appear as if it was looking into your soul. The reply text I found humorous she had sent 3 messages; one after the other about how gross it was; creepy looking; and it looked like the eye would be watching you as you ate it. Although I knew I had unwillingly unsettled her with the photo; I decided to still take the packet with me to school the next day; just in case she changed her mind. Sitting on the wooden pole fence at break the following day with two of our other friends; I brought up the topic about the Capenta again. She pulled a twisted face and said she never wanted to see another one again; they were too creepy. Ignoring what she had said; I mentioned that I had brought the packet with in case she wanted to try them; and reached for the packet in my bag. Before I could even put my hand in to take one out, she yelped, sprang up from the fence and ran a few feet away from me. I was dumbstruck; I had never seen her run before. After a few seconds I burst out laughing at her. The plain ridiculousness of her seeming to think she had run to for her life; just to get away from some harmless salted fish snacks was too much to handle. The others laughed too; but not as wholeheartedly as I did; they were also slightly unnerved by the Capenta. I started feeling guilty; so I forced myself to stop laughing and put the Capenta away before calling her back.
One does not often realise how something as simple as food can separate people not only from different countries, but also different cultures. I decided a few years ago to stop being so picky and judgemental about South African food and force myself to at least try out new things; and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the good results. After all; had I still stubbornly refused, I would still have to bring my own plate of food every time I was invited over. Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to adapt. I found that out the hard way.