Nshima, the underappreciated food

My good friend Heli, a Zambian-American, was kind enough to cook some nshima for lunch during my recentNshima1
visit to his home in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. I had two helpings of nshima, along with some cabbage and chicken curry (pictured), and would have eaten more, had my stomach not started to resemble a beach ball. Nshima is very filling — it’s one of the heaviest foods I know, and if you don’t believe me, just try bench-pressing a plateful of nshima.

Nshima is the staple food of Zambia, the country I grew up in. (It’s also eaten in surrounding countries, though known by other terms, such as sadza in Zimbabwe and ugali in East Africa.) Zambians are crazy about two things: nshima and soccer (which may explain why they shape nshima into round balls before eating it). As British freelance journalist Jamie Baldwin wrote during a visit to Zambia, "Every Zambian inhabitant eats the stuff, morning, lunch and
dinner — without exception. And they love it, absolutely love it. Starve a
Zambian of nshima for more than 12 hours and they break out into cold sweats and

Nshima is made from corn (or maize) meal, known to Zambians as mealie meal. According to Wikipedia, "The maize flour is first boiled with water into porridge and then skillfully ‘paddled’, not stirred,
to create a thick paste with the addition of more flour. Zambians consider
cooking nshima an art form with the aim of achieving the correct texture and
taste." I never realized this before, but my friend Heli is a very good nshima artist.

Nshima is somewhat of an acquired taste. Most Zambians acquire it at their local grocery store. Others seem to have a harder time. As sociology professor Dr. Mwizenge S. Tembo, who has composed a virtual treatise on nshima, writes in response to a reader’s comment:  "People from other cultures don’t understand the uniqueness of nshima and relish
and especially the subtleness of the taste."

Indeed, I often come across disparaging comments about nshima on the web, usually written by western visitors who just can’t fathom eating the same type of food over and over. Even if nshima is the only food available, they’d like to see more variety, such as fried nshima, barbecued nshima, Uncle Ben’s Instant Nshima, Lipton Wild Nshima, Cajun nshima, and Nshima-A-Roni.

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.

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