Monday, November 21, 2011

By One Reader's Demand: Our Food in Lesotho

Yesterday's breakfast: Cornmeal crepes with strawberry jam, toasted almonds and ghetto-homemade-from-UHT-milk-ricotta

Our anniversary pizza with: tomatoes, chard, carmelized onions, balsamic vinegar reduction and yes, chedder -we paired it with dissapointingly terrible red wine

Halloween chocolate cake - replete with scary severed fingers and glow-sticks!

Hello everyone! We hope you have all been staying warm and well "up there" in the Northern Hemisphere. It has been quite hot here, still worringly dry and windier than really any other place we've known (this includes - Great Falls). Hopefully this food post will coincide nicely with thoughts of Thanksgiving day feasting. We are going to celebrate with other volunteers, we're just not quite sure where yet. We will see what our first PC T-day looks like as we think about my mom's usual delicious feast and wonderful family, that we have accostomed to joining.

Thank you guys for voting on the little polls, I think I'll keep them coming to continue to try and let you all have a say on what you want to hear about. I will stretch this one out over two posts (I'll try to keep it to two!).  I do want to start though with talking about how and what we've been doing lately. The weekend before last was pretty busy with a few social events including a belated Halloween party with a couple of the other volunteers, this weekend we needed to just relax as Shane has had a nasty sore throat. One of the highlights was that I was able to download the This American Life podcast and we listened to it while concocting and eating a really nice breakfast and rounded all that out with our 49th game of Scrabble since being in country (wow almost 6 months now!) - it was pretty fabulous for us. We've both been enjoying our recent attempts to get up early (yes Dad - early, like in the morning) and do some yoga before work, we've been enjoying reading -Shane just finished Fast Food Nation and really liked it. I just finished Mansfield Park - after watching it on Masterpiece Theater in the states it was a really fun read. One of Shane's recent books The 4-hour Body described the creation of a T-bar that he can take to the gym, put weights on and treat like his favorite piece of excercise equiptment from the states - his kettlebell... this has been making him very happy! Please note here: Shane has a gym membership in Peace Corps. He has also been moonlighting as a pool shark, we went out last week to bid farewell to one of the friends we've made since being here - one of the doctors at Baylor Clinic. He's from Zimbabwe and is great to be around both at work and after, he's also pretty darn good at pool and swore ruthless vengence on Shane for beating him! We hope he is able to visit again soon. Shane's been getting better aquainted with some of the back story involved with his job and still putting together some of his other projects. Also, you can check out the photo page to see some of what I've been up to in the last couple weeks - including more flower pictures and adorable kitten pictures (Shane made the comment the other day that if we decide to have kids we'll have to put aside a lot of extra money every year just to develop all of the photos I'll take of it - not to mention scrapbooking them all...). A note on the kitten: its name is officially Serurubele which means butterfly in Sesotho and we don't actually know what gender it is -yet.

So... food. This is a subject that I'm sure almost all of you know is very near and dear to my heart. I'll start by saying that many of the vegetables and grains grown here are very similar to what we are used to. Field crops being: CORN, sorghum, wheat, beans, peas - haven't seen really any lentils or barley but I think there may be a few fields in the country. Vegetable crops consist mainly of cabbage family crops, especially cabbage, mustard, turnips, there is also chard, beets, carrots, potatoes, peas, beans, corn, winter squash, some tomatoes, onions, green peppers, occassionally garlic and melons. We were extremely stoked a few weeks back by the discovery of our neighboring convent having rhubarb, they said they didn't know what to do with it so they never used it... we were more than happy to help with that and we really enjoyed it ourselves! You will see strawberry plants growing around, but it is a little bit like the people don't care that much about them. There are gazillions of peach trees, quite a few apple trees, also, grapes, apricots, plums, and even a few figs and orange trees (we are very, very excited for fruit season). Not exactly the exotic African food we imagined at one time but it is great because there isn't that big of a learning curve with the garden. Actually though, even though these things grow most things that you find are imported from South Africa, especially this time of year.

So, traditional Basotho food (lijo tsa Basotho) consists of papa - the hard cornmeal porridge and moroho, which is greens - chard, mustard, cabbage, turnip tops, even wild greens... very finely chopped and sauteed in oil and salt. Sometimes they will put milk with the papa. That is what most people eat most often, people with money might also have theirs with nama (meat). Other traditional foods include samp, whole corn, mush stuff which is rehydrated and cooked for a long time that they load with MSG laden spice product until it is delicious. Beans, again with "spice." Steamed bread. Salads, which are a vegetable like peas or carrots slathered in mayonaise and salt. Also, rice is a pretty common starch to substitute for papa. They also make chakalaka which is a pretty delicious tomato based almost salsa-like thing with beans in it too. For breakfast is sorghum porridge that is very much like malt-o-meal. They also will eat eggs boiled or fried with the MSG spice stuff. The food is generally pretty good, generally plain - they don't tend to mix things together very often like I tend to do. Also they think we are crazy for not eating things like chicken feet and intestines because those are the best parts. Most often those things are cooked in a big cast iron kettle over an open wood fire (that is often in a little shed or rondavel near the house - which is killer for smoke!) I almost forgot to mention the Makoenya. Literally that translates to "fat cakes" as you all may know I think almost every culture has their own signature gob of deep fried dough - also true of Lesotho, and they are amazing! All this walking has been extremely important in my weight maintenence on account of these delicious treats.

You also find of course, that the grocery stores cater to the demands of the Basotho so, maybe you can infer that variety isn't exactly the highlight of the "grocery stores" here - they actually should just be called shops as they are extremely different from any "grocery store" that would generally come to mind using that term. So, what is generally available is a spice/boullion blends containing a lot of MSG, or curry powder, occassionally ginger, black pepper and garlic flakes. Of course there is also sugar and salt and even cayenne pepper. Grains are maize meal, sorghum meal, the samp stuff, white parboiled rice, wheat flour (yay, they have whole wheat too!) and even small boxes of expensive oatmeal. Since we aren't really eating meat our protein is pretty much limited to pinto-like beans, white beans, yellow or green dry peas, eggs, peanut butter and occasionally us PCVs celebrate the arrival of tuna at one of the shops before we go buy it all ourselves, also there is the boxed milk.

Produce of course, varies with season and we are still trying to mostly buy local but also maintain a balanced diet so we typically eat a lot of chard right now, we just had about 2 weeks of fresh greens peas, we'll pick up a few tomatoes, onions, potatoes, garlic and carrots, we have bought 2 cabbages also, before we got to site winter squash and beets were in season and we were eating those as well. For fruit, oranges have been in season in S.A. so they have been cheap and plentiful so we ate some of those but also a lot of apples and some bananas. A lot of our produce we don't get at the main grocery shops, if we don't buy them from the grower, we will find smaller shops or even street vendors that sell better produce at slightly better prices. Produce and protein as you might expect are pretty expensive things and we actually really spend a large percentage of our stipends just trying to eat a balanced diet. Suprisingly the food prices here are not that far off from what they are in the states.

I think that is definitely plenty on food for right now. I'll try to continue these thoughts next week, and in the meantime we both wish you all a great Thanksgiving, we know we are thankful for all of you and your love and support! Wishes for the best of everything as the holiday season kicks off.
Shane and Carol


  1. This is fascinating - I am cooking my way around the world and information on Lesotho is pretty hard to find. I'll definitely be referencing your post in my posting... if you have any simple recipes you'd like to share, please send me an email - there's a contact form on my web site ... I hope I hear from you! It's a bit last minute, I usually do my grocery shopping tomorrow and will be cooking the next day. Best wishes! Sasha

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