A few of the us trainees decided to cook American meals for our host families a couple weeks ago. We bought spaghetti in the store in the Boma over the weekend (695K) and picked up tomatoes and onions at the local trading post.
The day I decided to cook, I went home and found my amayi already cooking the chicken for dinner. I could see all the chicken pieces in the pot, including the feet. I told her I wanted to make spaghetti, and she got excited and said yes! And then she said we would eat it after nsima. Well, of course we would. After all, it's not really a meal without nsima.
I set a large pot to boil over the fire while I chopped the tomatoes and onions. There is no cutting board so I had to just hold them in my hands as I cut, but the knife is pretty dull so it is relatively safe. Kind of difficult to cut evenly though. My amayi came by and tried to get me to break the noodles in half before cooking, but I told her they were supposed to be kept long and she let me be.
Roddy and Vinny, my host brothers, were very excited about the spaghetti and decided to help out with the cooking. Which is sort of unusual in this culture, as females do all the housework, but since my host sister is only three, my brothers do a little of the household chores, like sweeping and clearing the dinner plates, and sometimes helping out with cooking.
As it was dark by this time, my host brothers held the flashlight for me so I could see what I was doing. I cooked the noodles, and then it was time to remove it from the fire. Mavuto (problem). There are no oven mitts here. I tried to use my skirt to grab the scalding pot, but the flames were going up the sides of the pot a little, and I was afraid it might catch fire. Just then, amayi swooped in and grabbed the hot pot with her bare hands and set it aside. Amayis have super hands that can withstand intensely hot temperatures.
Time to cook the sauce. I sautéed the onions in oil, then added the tomatoes and a generous bit of salt. (In Malawi, salt is the primary seasoning and is used in generous quantities when cooking. And then again when eating). I let that cook, and assigned my brother Roddy the task of stirring it.
Meanwhile, I had to strain the noodles. I still couldn't lift the pot, so Vinny dumped the water out for me. By this time the tomatoes had cooked down and the "sauce" was ready. I mixed the two in the large pot and brought it into the house for dinner. A little light on sauce, but it would do.
Everyone ate their nsima and chicken first, except me. I just took a bit of chicken, and then I tried the spaghetti. Then everyone dug in. We served it with the big flat nsima spoon, so it was funny watching the big portions of slippery noodles slide right off the spoon and back into the pot as people tried to serve themselves. We don't have any forks, so we all ate with our hands, which was pretty fun too. My amayi sent a bowl over to the neighbor's house, and then two neighbor boys came over and tried some spaghetti too. I found out later that one of the boys, Leonard, had just tried the spaghetti at Mary Beth's house across the way, so he was turning into a spaghetti-eating expert.
Here is a photo of my plate of spaghetti and chicken, lit by lantern light.
- Everyone seemed to enjoy the spaghetti, and had second helpings.
- I had a nsima-free meal, which is always a nice change
- I had fun cooking with my brothers
Cultural cooking exchange -- success!