In Nametil it took me two weeks to be better able to meet my daily living needs. I finally secured a table, a chair and mosquito net although I was never able to get the net hung properly so in the end it was useless. It did however provide a nice bit of color for the empty room. After a few days I was able to get hot water for instant coffee every morning. I would have boiled the water myself except the kitchen cooking heat came from a small coal fire in a grill. At night the coal and grill are locked away so I have to wait for Virgilio, the cook of another government worker who lives in a different government house which is not equipped with a kitchen, to arrive and boil some water for me. Yes I should have prepared as if I were camping. At some point early in the first week I learned that the driver for my host organization is staying in the same government guest house I am. The place is much larger than it appears from the outside and many people, actually all men, are staying here. The driver, Erasmo, began talking about how he was going to prepare Shrimp and Coconut for dinner. I of course said I love that and as a result was invited me to eat it with him. In return I supplied the beer for the meal. As he was unable to find any coconut we ended up eating a Shrimp and Eggplant Stew with rice which was absolutely delicious and restored me to myself. This best meal yet included good conversation in my crazy Portuguese, which now includes occasional Brazilian pronunciation and a Spanish word here and there.
As the days passed Eramso and I formalized our arrangement. I supplied the money for the food, after consulting with me about my likes and dislikes he decided what we would eat and gave instructions to Virgilio about what to buy and any necessary prep work. Finally Erasmo would finish the cooking when we returned from the field. Due to a severe lack of variety in the local food market I ate shrimp at least three times, grilled fish once or twice and either a cabbage salad or green pepper salad with every meal. The seafood was brought to our door frozen every morning likely from a shop like the one pictured here.
Once Virgilio and Erasmo prepared Matapa made with cabbage rather than pumpkin leaves. I prefer the pumpkin leaf version. My second favorite meal of the week was another shrimp stew in a light tomato sauce heavy on the garlic and onions served with fried manioc. We often bought vegetables from the farmers we visited and if we were lucky were given vegetables as a thank you.
Buying onions for dinner
Even here the selection was limited and my diet was primarily cabbage, green peppers, tomatoes and carrots. My one contribution to cooking was to make Cowboy Coffee for Virgilio, Erasmo and myself on afternoons when we were hanging around with nothing to do.
On the weekends I was left to my own devices as the grill was locked away and Erasmo returned to Nampula city for the weekends. My choice was to eat in the one restaurant in town where I usually had an omelet with French Fries. I’ve eaten more potatoes and eggs in the past two weeks than I usually do in two months back home! Now that I am back in Nampula City my food choices have expanded somewhat to delicious vegetable soups and expensive grilled meats and seafood, but mainly I am thrilled to be eating fresh pineapple and papaya every morning for breakfast. I can honestly say that I have never eaten a pineapple anywhere in the world better than the ones I have consumed in Mozambique. And this alone makes me happy.
After consulting with several on-line cookbooks, an article entitled Hungry for Adventure in Gourmet Magazine and my own memory I created a rough recipe for Matapa (also spelled Mathapa), my favorite Mozambican dish. In Mozambique you use young cassava (my preference) or pumpkin leaves. Here I’ve substituted collard greens. You might also try it with spinach. This dish can be served over white rice, coconut rice or xima, a thick maize porridge which is somewhat similar in consistency to polenta, but made with white corn flour. If you prefer vegetarian, leave out the shrimp. It will still be tasty.
2 bunches collards
28 ounces unsweetened coconut milk
1 pound raw peanuts
garlic, chopped fine
salt to taste
1 pound small shrimp, shelled and deveined (reserve shells)
- Place the shrimp shells in a pot of cold water and boil for 5 minutes. Strain and save liquid.
- Wash the collards; remove the tough stems and cut into small pieces. Purée collards in a food processor. Traditionally this is done with a large mortar and pestle. Cook the collards in 2 cups of shrimp water with 1 can coconut milk over medium heat for about 30 minutes.
- Cook the shrimp for five minute in boiling water. Strain and save liquid.
- Grind the peanuts in the food processor until they resemble powder. Place the peanuts in a saucepan with 2 cups of shrimp water and 1 can coconut milk over medium heat. When it begins to boil, pour the mixture over the greens. Add the garlic, salt, and shrimp; stir; reduce the heat and simmer for 1½ hours. Serve over rice.
Variations include serving with piri-piri, and adding tomatoes, onions, shaved green papaya or cassava flour during the final simmer
Fresh Piri-piri peppers, chopped fine
(in the US try small Thai Hot or Habanero Peppers. I’ve also used dried red pepper flakes)
Garlic, chopped fine
Parsley, chopped fine (optional)
Combine all the ingredients and let sit for one day before serving. For basting chicken, substitute coconut milk for the lemon juice.
On my first night back in Beira I had one of my best meals so far. Without asking I was served spicy pickled carrots as an appetizer and instead of sending them back I ate them and then asked for more. I conferred with the waiter and the following is an approximate recipe.
First slightly cook the carrots in boiling water. Then slice into rounds. Chop some garlic into small pieces and mix with the carrots, olive oil, vinegar, and pimintao (slightly spicy pepper- something like hot paprika) and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. Before serving salt lightly and garnish with parsley.
Frango a Zambeziana consists of ½ chicken (breast, leg and wing) marinated in coconut milk and then grilled. It was served with coconut rice. I have memories of other ingredients such as piri piri sauce, tomatoes and parsley, but this was simple and delicious as served. Tomorrow I go in search of the best matapa in town.
In an earlier post I wrote about how I hadn’t eaten much true Mozambican food (other than the produce I’ve bought and prepared myself) and the few Mozambican made food products I’ve been consuming have been limited to beer, mineral water, and piri piri cashews. Since then I’ve found the lemon cream biscuits I used to eat that are still made in Machava, a suburb of Maputo,
bought a bag of Mozambican sugar, and discovered Gouda Cheese made right here in Chimoio. The cheese is excellent and is packaged just as if it were made in Europe. The fancy packaging made me walk right by it in the store and it took Christina, my ShopRite tour guide to point it out to me. I bought some Gouda flavored with caraway seed. The milk for the cheese is produced on a Holstein dairy farm owed by a woman about 20 kilometers outside of Chimoio. Later I found out that the farm also produces milk and yogurt for sale, but have yet to see it in a shop. I did however have the opportunity to try the yogurt and it was delicious.
The cheese, like the lemon cream biscuits and the sugar carries the Made in Mozambique promotion symbol.
To qualify for certification, the product must be completely made in Mozambique, and the company must pay fair wages and enhance their workers quality of life. One hundred forty-four companies are currently certified. Very few food companies have yet to be certified, partially because very few exist, but the program is a promising sign for future products from Mozambique and has only been in existence since June 2006. To date the program has generated more than 45 billion meticais in transactions.
Saturday while interviewing vegetable wholesalers and retails at local markets I discovered a new food- malambe. It has a hard shell and soft greenish-brown fuzz on the outside. Inside the flesh is white, similar to the consistency of astronaut ice cream, and tastes like lemon. One fruit, pictured here, cost 1 mt. or 1/28th of a US dollar. The flesh was also being sold by the kilo for a much higher price. People make porridge from the flesh by cooking it with a combination of water, milk and sugar. Fairly large brown seeds must be removed. I’m curious about the nutritional content of malambe, as it seems somewhat insubstantial, yet the lemon taste makes me think I could be consuming high quantities on vitamin C.
The malambe fruit grows on the hinbondeiro tree, which can live to be hundreds of years old. The inside of the tree is hollow, somewhat resembling the inside of bamboo, this hollows means that the trees do not need a much water to prosper and grow. I have yet to see a hinbondeiro tree, as they are primarily found in Tete province to the north. The photo of the hindonbeiro tree below was given to me by Elizabeth, the CNFA project manager accompanying me on this assignment.
This morning I visited the two main markets in Beira to informally interview sellers in order to begin to grasp how vegetable markets are operating. What first struck me was the diversity of activities. People are very creative despite their limited resources and lack of infrastructure. Everyone is doing what they can to make money. Many times while farming in New Hampshire I made jokes about running a nickel and dime business, and clearly recall refusing to lower the price of my cucumbers to the $0.29 a grandmother-type declared was the grocery store price. I told her she could buy mine for $0.40 each or 3 for $1.00. From the stories I’ve heard so far, here in Mozambique vegetable markets are operating even closer to the margin.
The first market was primarily a wholesalers market. These wholesalers travel as much as four hours to Manica Province to buy large quantities of vegetables, often renting a car or truck, and then travel four hours back to Beira, the second largest city in Mozambique. The majority of these sellers sell in large quantities. Others are re-sellers who buy from the wholesalers and often sell only a few feet away from the wholesaler from whom they bought their produce. We spoke with a woman from Zimbabwe who was in Mozambique for one month to change the meticais earned by re-selling vegetables in to US dollars and take that back to Zimbabwe. I wondered about the profitability of this wholesale/re-sell system and how long the selling chain actually went. Sellers also varied widely their marketing approach. Some pick the best produce and make attractive displays and pre-measure small portions so that buyers do not have to purchase an entire kilo of carrots or beans (not much because they could not eat that much but rather because they can not afford to buy so much at one time), others simply display the produce as is. The market was quite chaotic, but not too crowded. No one has an assigned space, although it seemed that there had been some attempt to organize the market by vegetable. There were large quantities of tomatoes, potatoes and onions. Eventually we came across some carrots, beans, eggplant, peppers, and ginger. We even found one woman who was reselling garlic purchased from a Chinese shop in town. The final group of wholesalers purchase sacks of potatoes and onions grown in South Africa and sell them as is. This was the poorest quality produce in the market. Near an entrance we found an actual grower from Manica Province, who was operating what in the US we would call a truck farm. Today he was selling cabbage. He told us he owns and operated 10 hectares, sells in Chimoio and Beira, does not belong to an agricultural association or cooperative, and grows a wide variety or produce. We took his cell number as I’d like to spend more time interviewing him about his operation as we did not expect to find an independent grower at market.
The quality of produce at market varied widely. Some tomatoes were nearly rotting, while others looked acceptable for and American or European Farmers’ Market. This was especially true at the second market where venders paid for permanent stall space. One woman explained that she picked the best produce from the wholesalers market, and had a receipt book which meant that restaurants often purchased from her. She was able to charge 25 to 40% more for her produce. After some questioning we learned that this receipt book was not government controlled, but rather a book that could be purchased at any stationary store. She just had the combination of knowledge, foresight and education to enter this market.
In the afternoon I enjoyed a relaxing meal of Chamuças de Caranguejo (crab samosas) and Cora de Arroz com Caril de Gamboas (coconut shrimp curry with rice) along with two Mozambican beers (2M) followed by a small espresso. One thing I’ve noticed is how lovely service is here; attentive and pleasant without being overbearing. I’m not sure how to explain the difference from 1990 (perhaps more relaxed and confident) but it is honestly quite amazing. I hope it stays this way as tourism continues to pick up. Although at home I am usually a generous and fair tipper, I often feel that I am empathizing with and supporting some struggling waiter or waitress rather than actually enjoying giving a good tip for a job well done. After eating my meal I stayed to read and write notes for my assignment in Chimoio. This afternoon I had so many new ideas about how to approach the project. I’m not sure if it was the breeze from the Indian Ocean, the delicious food, or the fact that I’m doing what I love, but the ideas would just not stop flowing.