“Preparing Sadza is a love affair, you fall in love with the process and the outcome, however long it takes!”
I looked at him, not believing he had just given that analogy. But I had to believe he meant no offence. He had reacted in typical, rather dry, German humour.
'It really is flavourless, like rubber. I'm surprised it's so popular,' he went
'But then the diet here is monotonous,' he added clearly oblivious to the insult.
That was Christian Gumtow, my sixth form biology teacher, describing the taste of Sadza, or Ugali to the less initiated, or Pap to a fancier lot.
I had just made Sadza for us to share. I fully understand why a foreigner might react that way. Sadza, the main basis of the southern diet, will not hack your taste buds and metabolism. Yet, it's to die for! The way it looks is so surprising considering
how delicious it tastes when served with the right accompaniment. It is white in colour, completely lacking in taste, and very ordinary.
But mix it with relish and it becomes one of the most heavenly foods, devilishly made to savour you in the most
angelic of ways.
When properly done, Sadza gives an aroma that lingers for long; strong mixture of maize flour and heated wood. It is by far the most deceiving of foods I have ever come across.
And preparing Sadza is a love affair,
you fall in love with the process and the outcome, however long it takes! Across most of Africa, it all begins with the journeys into the wild to look for firewood. The best sadza is a slow burn, prepared on firewood.
It is during these journeys that
young Africans become of age, going through complex processes of socialisation and learning. Perhaps meeting the crush of their life, or catching up on the latest village gossip. It was during one of these journeys that my cousin discovered what he thought
a most perpelexing and risky trait of African girls. One that annoys every man: playing hard to get. Months later he was to find out it was love at first sight for her too. But she just could not get herself to admit it on the first day. It was weeks after
when they became 'an item.'
And had he not persisted, they may not have ended together and might not have gifted the world with the most beautiful family there is on this planet.
Then comes the elaborate chemistry of preparing the meal.
To the south of Africa, water must be brought to boil first before adding small amounts of finely ground maize (corn) meal flour and bringing everything to boil.
To the East of Africa, perhaps reflecting the impatience and inexperience of inhabitants,
everything is boiled in one go and the mixture brought to one thick ending!
Boiling sets the final structure to Sadza. Like a love affair, the process creates a hot unified being. Keep adding maize flour until one achieves a dough thickening of
their liking, as one would do to feed a relationship they value.
Africans learnt the art and craft of making Sadza after discovering that small grains such as sorghum, rapoko and millet could be eaten in a palatable form by grinding and turning
them into flour, and then adding water to create paste which could be cooked and consumed.
The Sadza that graces African dinner tables today is mostly made from white maize kennels which are also ground into flour. Maize is a very recent introduction
to African diets, first introduced in the 1500s but becoming more widespread the the 1950s.
Sadza is best taken with a relish. And on the day, I prepared 'Gwata-kwata' - a mixture of vegetables and beef. It is the kind of food that greets you with the
enticing smell which makes a hard days work worth it. And as you dip into the food, it releases the smoky aroma that Africans have come to associate with Sadza. Enough to drive anyone wildly delirious with satisfaction.
I watched Christian help himself
to a delectable serving of my handmade delights. The Sadza may have been tasteless, but with the relish it made for a heavenly affair.
His face beamed as he dug in for more. And in that moment, I knew I could still be trusted to make a really
gassing dish of sadza.