News

South Africa: Poor Man's Food Becomes Rich Man's Luxury

In South Africa, a revival of traditional foods is underway. South Africans are beginning to recognize their local recipes as essential to their heritage. They’re proud of their unique cuisine and want to share it with the world, after decades of apartheid prevented different cultures from experiencing each other’s culinary delights. Now foods previously dismissed in South Africa as fit only for the poor are being served in some of the finest restaurants.

Decades of toil as a washer of richer people’s clothes have made the skin on Alinah Makhubele’s hands rough and hard.

“It is good; the hard skin means my hands do not hurt easily and I can work even harder!” she laughs, at a time when others would be justified in complaining about the hardship life has heaped on them.

But Makhubele says she’s always been “super strong!” Recently, she lost her laundry job of 32 years. The “next day,” she says, she began selling food from a makeshift store near her home in Lenasia, on the outskirts of Johannesburg.

Makhubele’s specialty is umngqusho, or samp and beans, a traditional staple of South Africa’s Xhosa people.

She runs her fingers through hundreds of hard, ivory-colored bits of maize, until her hands are covered in a fine white powder.

“This is the samp part of the meal,” Makhubele explains. “It is maize that is so hard it would normally be thrown away or fed to animals. But the Xhosa, they invented a great meal when they decided to boil the samp until it was soft, together with beans.” 

Makhubele’s store is so tiny that it doesn’t even have a name. But this doesn’t deter her from serving dozens of plates of piping hot umngqusho to ravenous workers from nearby building sites.

‘It swells in your stomach’

Makhubele soaks the samp and beans overnight, “to make it softer,” otherwise she’d be cooking it the “whole day,” she says, emptying the mixture into a large cast iron pot. She covers it with water and brings it to the boil, adding salt and pepper.

“Sometimes, I add a few chopped tomatoes and a meat bone – if it’s been a good week and I’m able to afford these,” she says, while stirring the bubbling broth.

Makhubele boils the samp and beans for about four hours, occasionally adding water to prevent it from drying and burning. Eventually, a rich, creamy stew emerges.

“Samp and beans is very good to eat. And besides, we are poor, and this is all many people can afford. It makes a big meal to feed a lot of people,” Makhubele says. “With one plate of umngqusho, you can go without eating the whole day. You are full for a long time, because the maize and beans swell in your stomach.”

Nelson Mandela’s favorite food

Makhubele sells a large plate of samp and beans for about one US dollar. In stark contrast to this, restaurants in more affluent areas of South Africa are now offering umngqusho for up to four dollars for a small portion. The up-market eateries sell samp and beans as a starchy accompaniment to expensive cuts of meat.

But Makhubele dismisses their attempts to “copy” the traditional meal. She says she’s read that the “fancy” restaurants “put all kinds of foreign herbs and spices – and even cream!” – in their umngqusho.

“This isn’t ‘traditional’ samp and beans,” Makhubele complains. “You cannot add all these foreign ingredients and expect to follow tradition. This is a township recipe, so it is best served simple.”

But she’s nevertheless “pleased” that growing numbers of white South Africans are coming to regard umngqusho as “wonderful food…. They’re now able to see that [even though] we are poor and live in townships, we…are able to make good food,” says a smiling Makhubele.

The washerwoman-turned-cook says it’s taken “too long” for her compatriots of all colors  and creeds to include the once lowly meal of samp and beans in their diets…especially in view of the fact that shortly after former president Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he declared umngqusho to be his favorite food.

Mandela is a Xhosa, born and raised in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, where samp and beans was first made.

Miriam Makeba, the great South African singer and anti-apartheid activist who passed away in November last year, was also a lover of umngqusho. When in exile in the United States, Makeba would often long for a plate of samp and beans and would tell her American hosts about the benefits of the dish.
 
Besides its taste, the simple meal of samp and beans continues to protect many South Africans against malnutrition and to be an exciting new addition to the diets of the country’s wealthier people.

Feedback

We'd like to hear what you have to say. Let us know what you think of this report and other news and features on our website. Email your views about what is happening in Africa to: africa@voanews.com. Please include your name and phone number if you would like us to include your comments on our programs. Or, telephone us and leave a message. In the US, call: (202) 205-9942. After you hear the VOA greeting, press the number "30" and leave your opinion. We may use it on our daily broadcasts.

 

 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs