Through our eyes

As mentioned in this week’s update, Melissa learned how to be a Tanzanian chef!  We were invited to the home of our friend and co-worker, Kaaya.  He said that his wife, Neema, would teach us how to make chapatti, ugali, beans, and rice.  Neema successfully taught us this, and much more!  As with most things here, we had no idea what we were in for! 

When we arrived at Kaaya’s house at 3:30 in the afternoon, Neema promptly gave Melissa a conga to wear.  Nearly every Tanzanian woman wears these regularly or at least have several at home in their house!  They wear beautiful, bright congas over their clothes so that they don’t get their good clothes as dirty.  

After Melissa figured out how to put the conga on (see the photo above), Neema took us outside so that we could begin cooking.  They decided to teach us the traditional way of cooking.  Some Tanzanians have the amenities that allow them to cook inside on a propane stove, but it became evident that they still prefer to cook outside.  We agree!  It was a beautiful afternoon and was much more pleasant to be cooking outside over fire than inside in a hot kitchen!  

Neema first showed Melissa how to toss beans in a basket and weed out the rocks, bean shells, and other impurities.  Melissa then had to rinse the beans in a bucket of water and place them in a clay pot to cook over a flaming fire (shown below). 

Melissa then learned how to make chapatti!  This is one of our favorite foods so we were very excited to learn.  Chapatti is an Indian food, but, as we have mentioned before, there is a lot of Indian influence in some of the foods and spices in Tanzania.  Neema made Melissa do every step of the work (and John diligently took notes) so in theory we should be able to replicate the work; however, it was much like the art of making bread.  When Melissa makes bread in the U.S., she knows to add more water if it looks to dry or to add more flour if it is too wet.  She knows what the consistency of the dough should be like before moving on to the next step.  It’s the same with chapatti.  Neema knew what it needed and was able to tell Melissa every step of the way. 

As you can see in the photo below, Melissa was not immediately successful with creating circular chapatti.  It took several times of trial and error to make them circles, but eventually this happened!  In the lower right hand corner of the photo you can see cinnamon roll shaped dough.  These are not cinnamon rolls, but actually the dough rolled up with oil after we made the first circles.  After all of the “cinnamon rolls” are made, you again flatten the dough and make the chapatti round so that you can cook it. 

Melissa cooked the chapatti in a clay pot over charcoal and nearly burned her right thumb!  The chapatti is cooked in oil and requires at least four flips per chapatti, without a spatula!  Melissa used a spoon instead and managed to get the job done!  Melissa’s arms were quickly tiring after creating this dish!

After the chapatti was done, Melissa made rice.  We make rice often so this task was not as challenging, but we still learned a lot!  Following the rice, Melissa cleaned spinach, chopped onions, and learned how to make ugali!  For those of you who don’t know what ugali is, it is an oddly textured food made out of ground maize or cassava flour and mixed with water.  It is very bland and is typically mixed with meat or vegetables to complete an inexpensive meal.  It is a Tanzanian staple that we eat, but we are not incredibly crazy about.  However, after seeing how easy, fast, and cheap it is to make, we might just start making it!  We used less than a cup of flour and made enough ugali for an entire family.  The mixture has to boil for a while and then you slowly add more flour while stirring rapidly.  As the mixture cooks it quickly thickens and becomes very difficult to stir, especially after three hours of cooking! 

As you can tell by the blog, Melissa did all of the work and John watched.  It became evident quickly in the afternoon that Melissa would learn and John wouldn’t because the women do most, if not all, of the cooking in Tanzania (a tradition very different from the collaborative way we cook in our kitchen!).  Although Melissa’s arms almost fell off because of all of the kneading and stirring and her shoes and fingers nearly caught on fire due to the heat from the fire and the charcoal, she had a wonderful time!  Melissa is the first “muzungu” (westerner) that Neema has ever taught how to cook, and we must say that Neema was a phenomenal teacher!  It was an incredible afternoon of learning, laughter, and making wonderful friends


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